Wednesday, September 10, 2008
2. We need to believe that we’re the center of the universe, because otherwise we feel helpless, which we aren’t.
3. If semantics are the only things that you can argue, then you probably need to stop arguing.
4. There will not always be a tomorrow, at least not for us. Just because something beyond our control has always been, does not mean it will always be. So say what you need to say or do what you need to do, because you may not get the chance again.
5. Pay attention to the world around you and the effects your actions will have on others, or else you don’t get to be appalled when someone does something that hurts or inconveniences you without thinking.
6. Complaining about a bad situation doesn’t make it better. If you want to get out, you always have that choice. And suicide is very, very rarely the right choice. See number five.
7. Little things count. They count more than big things, because when you add them all up, you may do one or two truly big things in your life, but you’ll do billions of little things that you may or may not give a second thought.
8. Things will happen that will hurt. A lot. They will change you forever. But there is nothing in the world that you can’t move past, or at the very least learn to live around.
9. People will only have power over you as long as you allow them to do so. This extends from the closest interpersonal relationships to the highest levels of government.
10. A battle worth fighting is worth fighting, even if you know you’ll never completely win the war.
11. Before you go off on someone for something you think they’ve done wrong, take a step back, think about the situation and make sure that the fault really lies with them.
12. Religion is not worth hurting people over. There are no religions or philosophies whose actual doctrines call for the eradication or conversion of everyone else in the world. At the same time, if you haven’t got faith in something more, don’t be a hypocrite and try to tear down someone else’s, even if you don’t agree.
13. Just because you won’t be around to see the effect your actions have on someone else, or on the world as a whole, doesn’t give you the right to ignore it. I’m not saying you need to go out and hug a tree, but remember that if you cut it down and don’t replace it, your grandkids may never know what it was like to sit in the shade and listen to the rustle of the leaves.
14. The only person who can make you feel like less than you are is you.
15. Be aware of your limitations, change them if you can, accept them if you can’t, and don’t be jealous of someone else who doesn’t have them. Their limitations are somewhere else.
16. Help one another when you can, however you can.
17. Things, like experiences, aren’t worth having unless you can share them.
18. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.
19. Lying to spare someone’s feelings can be easier, but it’s rarely better.
20. It’s not always about you.
21. When you say to someone that you don’t trust other people around them, what you really mean is that you don’t trust them around other people.
22. No one deserves your respect if they’re disrespectful to you. This includes parents. But remember that when you’re a parent, because someday you may not have that respect either.
23. Try not to judge people based solely on hearsay, because a bias is always going to be there, one way or another. And remember that, too, when you’re describing someone else.
24. Don’t listen to society just because it’s the common view. It’s been wrong before, and is probably wrong now.
25. Fear is never a good enough reason, on its own, to make or break a decision.
26. “I don’t know,” is always a valid answer, but never a good enough reason to stop trying to find out.
27. No one is irreparable unless they allow themselves to be. At the same time, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
28. The pursuit of happiness is worthless if you never stop to enjoy the happiness it’s already garnered.
29. Appearances fade. Look deeper.
30. Pain is pain, and no one else’s is any more or less than yours.
31. Sympathy and pity are not the same thing.
32. Forgiveness is probably the hardest and most valuable thing you’ll ever learn to give. And it’s something you should never put off. See rule four.
33. Your pride is never more valuable than someone else’s pain.
34. The only thing that gives you the right to hurt someone is if they’re hurting someone else.
35. Hate is useless.
36. No one has the right to walk all over you, no matter what they’ve done in the past. By the same token, though, you don’t have the right to walk all over anyone else.
37. You’re never a martyr if you declare yourself one.
38. Feeling inferior is no reason to act superior. You’re no better or worse than anyone else.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Imagine standing alone on the edge of the ocean at dawn, watching the sunrise over water that expands into what seems like forever, sparkling with a myriad of colors warm and cold. The sand beneath you, still cool, adjusts obligingly as you shift your weight unconsciously from one foot to the other, the gentle morning breeze carrying the salt smell of the seas to you. It feels as though you stand at the edge of a precipice, at the end of the world sailor’s once feared. The waves rise and fall, washing in and out, endlessly, as they have long before you were born and will long after our race is a memory on time.
To some, this image is beautiful, a powerful reminder that we are part of something perfect and balanced and immense. To others, to many, it triggers a deeply ingrained terror at the sudden realization of how small we truly are in comparison to the world, how alone we can feel when not bolstered by the swells of population. There is an old proverb that says we can truly measure the peace in our hearts by standing at the edge of something greater and being thankful for the reminder of our place in the world.
So what is our place in the world? As a species, we have done all we can to convince ourselves that we are the rulers of the world, the top of the food chain. Not only that, but we have taken on the mantle of lordship over all, subjugating what we can and attempting to destroy the rest. Our ancestors would find this idea laughable. A cog, after all, however integral to its function, does not solely drive the machine and, if removed, becomes useless and inert. Frightening as it may be, the machine can go on without us. Our spot at the top is not a permanent position for us any more so than it was for any species that came before.
We are, however, at the top now and we reap the benefits that are our due. The problem, of course, is that we seek to shirk the responsibilities that come along with the rewards. We call ourselves Kings because we are afraid to be what we truly are; Stewards, accountable for the well-being of the world over which we rule. We have lingered in our youth too long, delaying the inevitable to the point of self-destruction. It is time that we grow up.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
The Fallacy of Human Nature
Humanity is a strange creature. When we began, we were like all the other inhabitants of the Earth, which is to say that we took a passive role in the eco-system, hunting what we needed, when we needed it, and moving to make sure that there was always food on the table enough for everyone. We found our place in the world and accepted it. After awhile, higher intellect took over and we started to wonder why we had to move around, following the food, when we could simply make the food stay in one place with a few simple structures. Thus was the first major shift in mankind’s development; the agrarian revolution.
Now that we’d settled down, we found a small measure more security than once we had. Because of this, we found more time to develop other aspects of ourselves, as the basic needs were being met. We started to question the world and our place within it. Such is the burden of reason, after all, and mankind was blessed with more of this than any other creature. We were not the strongest, the fiercest, or the most well-suited to our world, but we were, above all others, the most clever.
Over the years, we looked back at who we were before the revolution, when we moved from season to season to suit the whims of nature. In the beginning, we were almost certainly wistful of that freedom. Man is, after all, inherently prone to wander. This is true even today. Think back to the college road trips that seemed like they would go on forever or the excitement of the annual family vacation. But we put that aside in favor of better things.
Then, perhaps because it is the way of children, and we, as a species, were children, we became resentful of the thing we felt we wanted but could no longer have. So we told ourselves how much better off we were now, how hard it was then, and how this made us more than we had been. We used fear to destroy our need for adventure. This, too, is something we continue to do today. When we graduate, we’re expected to relegate the road trips to the realm of fond memory, told that we must buckle down and put such childish things behind us, lest we risk our livelihood, our security.
After awhile, we realized that things were easier if we lived together. By being in easy reach of our neighbors, we could trade, allowing us to specialize in the things we enjoyed doing. We created villages, then towns, then cities, areas of the world claimed by humanity for its sole usage. Nature was pushed to the outskirts or built over as we created homes and markets and factories. It, like the animals before, was put under control. We figured out how to make complex irrigation systems, created tools to do more work with less energy, and the farm as we know it became the foundation of our world.
Specialization and ingenuity led to industry, which not only pushed us further from the natural world, but began to abuse it. We saw ourselves as completely separate now, lords over the lesser creatures. We called the untamed parts of the world dangerous and, again, it came back to fear. We taught our children that civilization was the only safe place, despite the starving masses that were the by-product of a culture built upon the ideals of industry. We began to use our reason, our cleverness, to twist not only the world, but reality to our ends.
Today, in the adolescence of our species, we are, like most adolescents, unsure of our place in the world and torn between what we feel is the truth deep in our bones and what we’re told is the truth by those we’ve always been taught know better. So we wander through our lives, lost to the fact that we’re lost. We have no compass save for a strange echo of who we once were. We’ve spent so much time trying to carve out a place for ourselves in the world that we no longer know who we are as a species. We try desperately to quell that voice inside that whispers that there is more to life than survival.
Thousands of years after we began to whisper to our children that we must be separate, that we must rise higher than the world around us, we continue to do so. Now, however, the world around us tends to be other people, so we try to push ourselves above them, hurting one another out of the ancient fear that we will be left behind, that we will lose our security. The irony, of course, is that if we ceased trying to constantly best our fellow Man and push forward, there would be nothing to fear. In the beginning, we understood that. We worked together, symbiotic rather than the parasites we’ve become, feeding off not only the world, but also now our own species for fear that if we relent, if we stop for even a moment, we will become food for another.
Thus we commit horrible atrocities in the name of countless twisted virtues and philosophies. We allow fear to mutate, to fester and thrive. It becomes anger, hatred, and all the darkest parts of humanity. It tells us that it’s either us or them, and that it can never be both. What’s more, fear has finally reached a point where it has overcome reason. We stand on the brink of disaster, not only of our species, but of our world as a whole.
Where do we go from here? If we are to reach adulthood, as a species, we must use our singular talent, our intellect, for the greater good, rather than the personal good. In order to do so, we must let go of much of what we believe about the world, turn and face our fears, many of which are real now solely as the result of our giving them life. Finally, we must let them go and try to find a place again in the world.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
As it stands, the state currently offers more than a hundred license plates supporting everything from universities to sports teams to any of the numerous leisure activities for which it is known. To add one more which lets a devout member of a given faith to display that devotion seems a small allowance.
Before taking up arms against this oppressive gesture, or against those opposed to it, however, we must ask ourselves why it is that this is such a hot-button issue, even in its conceptual stages. We are a country built upon notions of freedom of religion and freedom of expression, two ideals which this plate solidly represents. Given that, there is no reason why it should be offensive to anyone. It does not seek to proselytize and if your faith is weak enough that you feel that you will be converted by the image of the symbol of another’s faith, then you ought to spend less time protesting what amounts to a logo and more time figuring out where you lost your way.
Where it does break down, though, is that it calls only for the creation of a Christian plate, rather than a religious line of plates. The country has shown a recent trend of religious intolerance when it comes to governmental processes and procedures, such as a last year’s denial by the military to allow pagan soldiers who were killed in Iraq to have a pentacle on their memorial headstones amongst the crosses and stars of David. Were the
The irony, of course, is that those Christians who would stand up in support of this plate, forming the inevitable counter-protest, are also those most likely to stand against the inclusion of other religions. There is a need amongst humans to belong to something larger than we are. What we have lost sight of, or perhaps what we have never truly understood, is that we do not have to define our unity with the exclusion of others, be it when talking about something as powerful as a chosen faith or as a simple as a license plate.
Wednesday, April 9, 2008
There was a time when an American parent’s greatest hope for a child was that he, or she, would grow up to become president. As a young man entering the latter part of my twenties, with the prospect of having children of my own edging closer by the day, I wonder if that’s true anymore. Would I want my child to grow up to be the kind of person who is capable of succeeding in the American political system? The fact that I hesitate to say yes, even for a second, raises uncomfortable feelings in my gut as the next major election looms around the corner.
To begin with, I have to look at the attributes I would wish to encourage in my own progeny. Like most parents, or the good ones, at least, I would like my child to be honest, kind, a hard worker who understands the nature of sacrifice and the pride of having done goodness for the sake of the work itself. I would like my child to be intelligent, clever, and wise enough to know the difference.
Ideally, I would like a child who is tolerant not because he fears how society will view him, but because he is self-reflective enough to realize that he carries the prejudices of experience that we all accumulate along the road of life. Most of all, I want a child who is happy and proud of who he is and has been and realizes that it is those things which will make him the person he will be later in life.
When I list out the qualities I would wish to see in my own children, then take a step back and look objectively at his chances for the presidency, I realize that were he to become the man I hope he does, he would never stand a chance of wading through the murky waters of American politics. He would either be torn apart by the media, who ironically seem to distrust anyone on whom they are incapable of finding a shred of dirt, or, and my heart freezes for a moment at this dreadful thought, he would find a bullet in his heart, put there by another victim of our country’s increasingly fatal divisiveness.
Why, then, if these traits are those which we would consider a blessing on our own lives, do we not expect them of our leaders? Why do we, in fact, seem to go out of our way to make certain that they are not present? If a child is truly the reflection of its parents, then a nation’s leaders are the reflection of its people. As we enter an economic recession and the fifth year of a war driven by greed and fueled by fear, why haven’t we stopped bickering with one another long enough to realize that the child birthed by our forefathers more than two hundred years ago is slowly dying.
Monday, March 3, 2008
All partisan politics aside, the idea of No Child Left Behind was sound. That we should, as a country, take responsibility for the fact that we are slipping behind the rest of the first world (and a fair bit of the developing world’s up-and-comers) in just about every important way possible is a huge step forward. Our competent literacy rate is falling. Scientifically, we are in the last legs of the race towards progress. The blame for this has fallen solely where it should: our lacking educational system.
How is it in a place where every child can use a computer virtually from birth, allowing access to the boundless knowledge and international connectivity of the internet, that we are creating generations of people for whom reading is a trial and math beyond basic arithmetic is viewed with core-deep anxiety? Surely something must be wrong. We’ve ceased seeing scholastic achievement as a goal unto itself. Rather, we choose now to view it as simply a stepping stone to a greater purpose, the pursuit of the crumbling American dream of wealth and happiness.
The purpose of NCLB, then, was ostensibly to refocus the American viewpoint onto the education system that was churning out year after year of graduating seniors who could barely read past a sixth grade level. It created a long-term plan for the bettering of the American education system by gradually increasing the standards to be met each year. The accountability to which teachers and administrators once held themselves was now coming from an outside source. There were real stakes, everything from the loss of already insufficient funding to the outright loss of employment, threats veiled thinly behind the word “restructuring.”
The idea, that if teachers and administrators were held responsible for the failings of their students academic careers, was a good one. But, as with many of the government’s ideas, insight faltered as it made the transition from inspiration to implementation. Rather than creating a truly innovative, fresh way of approaching the problem, the administration chose instead to recycle old ideas in an attempt to squeeze from fruit which had already proven to be rotten fresh juice.
Though the Constitution lays the responsibility for the funding of public education on the shoulders of the individual states, the federal government has long since has a financial stake, if arguably a shamefully small one, in the system. Of course, as with all things political, the agenda of each regime is definitely reflected in the strings attached to this money, but that’s a different essay altogether. The problem here with NCLB is that it seeks increased accountability from the schools without giving them the two things which would all but guarantee the program’s success.
First, the only incentive educators have to meet the criteria is that if they do, they won’t lose money or employment. And before you say that it’s the nature of the job, that the well-being of the students should be enough, when was the last time you put in extra effort every day at your job with no prospect for a reward. There is no hope in the program that, should a school succeed, they will receive a larger portion of the government’s pie. No, that sort of incentive is reserved for military and petroleum contractors, not educators. Instead, they are told they must make do with the same budget they’ve always had, or less, as has been the recent trend, and make more from it. As any teacher will happily point out, you can want two and two to make five all day, but it never will.
Second, the measurement of success itself is gauged by one of the most notoriously inaccurate assessment methods in education: standardized testing. Having been assailed since it began to see widespread use for everything from racism to sexism to simple inability to accurately measure the abilities of those it seeks to measure, standardized testing is, as a whole, an archaic means of determining the relative achievement levels and progress of students. Think back to your own ACT or SAT experience and how little of what was really important to your college experience it took into account.
So why do we continue to rely so heavily on these tests? The reason, as always, is almost purely financial. Standardized testing is cheap, fast, and a fairly accurate way to create some really nice-looking, if ineffectual, statistics to placate voters and taxpayers. The problem, though, is that it fails to measure the most important factor in a child’s future success, the ability to think. Standardized testing measures the child’s grasp of facts and his or her ability to regurgitate them upon command in an atmosphere so fraught with anxiety that it’s been known to induce vomiting and panic attacks in fourth graders. It fails to take into account any of the higher order thinking skills which any educator will agree are the true foundations of progress and the hallmarks of a real education.
In the light of all this, where does the solution lie? How do we remain competitive in a world we no longer dominate? It’s actually easier than it seems. Rather than dictating the standards which a school must meet and expecting it to do so with no incentive, we provide incentive. The sum total of what we gave Halliburton alone last year in defense contracts could easily put the American education system not only in the running with other nations, but help us very quickly re-take our status as first of the first world nations. The priorities of the country must, if we are to survive as a nation, shift from making the next dollar to making the next generation.
Finally, we must learn to let go of our personal political stances in favor of the bigger picture. The future of this country is something which impacts each and every one of us, and it will only be a bright one if we all take some responsibility for the direction in which it’s headed. It’s all fine and good to write your representatives in government, but if you really want to make a stand for our children, our future, get out there and make a difference. Vote, make yourselves heard where it counts to those at the top. Show them that teachers are not the only ones who should be held accountable for the horrendous state of the American education system.
After that, take a good hard look at what you do to help your children learn to value education (every time you scoff at the idea of reading a book, you teach your child that reading is not of any real value) or how much you’ve done to help the schools in your district. The future, as always, will be determined by the actions of those living in the present.
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
Connections. That’s the word that lies at the heart of it all. I recently put a call out to those around me asking what they thought was wrong with the world. I’ve spent the last few months reading, cogitating, and trying my best to synthesize and summarize the responses I received. Some of them gave me hope. Others just flat out scared the hell out of me. But every one, regardless of whether it left me hopeful or hollow, made me think and, when it came right down to it, that’s what I was really looking for.
Many of those I asked said nothing was wrong, that we were in fact in an unprecedented age of prosperity and intellectual growth. They were right. With the integration into the world of what a professor of mine once called the new technology, we are poised to herald in the greatest age of mankind. Minds across the globe are able to compare notes with the ease of a few keystrokes and this has created unprecedented levels of collaboration that very well may have the ability to usher in a new renaissance.
On the other end of the spectrum were those who said that everything was wrong simply because it was in the nature of Man to perpetrate upon one another the violent, callous atrocities which we as a species commit every day. They claim that we are inherently selfish. The rich stand on the backs of the poor because it is in their best interest to do so in order to maintain their place. Put simply, the reason things are as they are is because it is who we are, who we have been, and who we will always will be, until everything collapses around us.
Falling in the middle, then, in the gray area between the blinding brilliance and the crushing darkness, are the ones like me, who see the world as it is, understand the world as it should be, and wish to make the two the same. We recognize the potential for humanity, see the signs in the last century that point toward how amazing things could be, how much change is possible, but also see the obstacles standing in our way.
In the first group of people, connection is what allows the flourish of possibility on a level unknown before now. In the second, it is the lack of connection, of understanding, of empathy, that is laying the foundation for the destruction of everything we know, of not only our species, but our world. Everything comes down to connections.
So, rather than sitting around, waiting for someone else to make the connections, I thought I would give it a shot. While I completely believe that no one man or woman can save the world, I do believe that the world can be saved if enough of us get together to try and do it. The evidence for the overwhelming power of the human spirit is undeniable. It lies in the civil rights movement, the women’s suffrage movement, the eradication of smallpox and, perhaps more importantly on a day to day level, the simple acts of kindness and generosity perpetrated by average men and women.
So here’s my plan. I’m going to send this letter to as many people as I can, ranging from the brightest minds in every field to those who have simply shown a propensity to change the world for the better, be it through action or example, in an attempt to try and see where we stand as a global society. I want to diagnose the problems facing the world so that we can help to find solutions. So here I am, sincerely asking for any help that you can offer. I ask only for your time and your insight, though anything else you can offer to further this cause would not be turned away.
With this help, I will chronicle those things I learn in order to try and tell not only my story, but the story of the world at the turn of the millennium, where so much hangs in the balance. I hope to make this endeavor my life’s work, collecting, writing, and disseminating to the world what I can in order to leave as positive an imprint as I can. Where this will lead, if it even leads anywhere, is still unknown, but I cannot, will not, sit by and let the calling I feel to do this pass me by.
I am twenty-seven years old. The most prominent sentiment of my generation seems to be hopelessness, the feeling that we cannot make a difference. We are listless and apathetic because we know no other way. I, for one, am tired of feeling that my destiny is beyond my control and I hope you will help me to try and reshape it, to speak for those who have forgotten, or who have never known, that they have a voice.
Topics of Interest (Constantly growing and evolving)
Culture & Intercultural Dynamics
Economics & The Corporate Mentality
Equality: Race, Gender, and Lifestyle Issues
Government & Politics
Poverty & Charity
Sex & Violence in Contemporary Cultures
Technology and Innovation
Theology & Philosophy
The Ground Rules
Because every project needs some ground rules, these are the ones that I’ve come up with. They’ve served me well thus far as a means of keeping the thoughts flowing in a positive, constructive direction and are based upon my own observations through the early legs of my journey.
Rule Number One: Blame Solves Nothing
One of the most common problems I had when asking about the ills of the world was that while people were more than willing to volunteer what they felt was wrong at great length, many of them were not nearly as vocal about what could be done. When asked to dig deeper, to find reasons for why things are as they are, I got, more than anything else, a great deal of finger-pointing.
Some said that it was the fault of the generations that had come before for not laying the proper foundations. Some said it was the fault of those who came after not holding up their end of the deal. Others blamed politicians, the wealthy, the poor, the oil industry…The list goes on and on.
The problem with blame, however, is that it solves nothing. It is simply a way of delaying having to actually deal with a problem. Are the oil companies, at least to some degree, to blame for the current state of the environment? Probably so. Problem solved, right? Of course not.
Therein lies the difference between placing blame and finding a reason. The act has been perpetrated. It can’t be undone. So put the energy you’re wasting pointing fingers and slinging accusations towards discerning and dealing with the problems. To use the aforementioned problem of global warming, start to lobby effectively for change. Carpool. Live as close to a carbon neutral life as you can.
In other words, find solutions rather than wasting time on making sure the finger doesn’t fall on you, because maybe it is the fault of someone else, but you’re still the one with the problem, so do something about it.
Rule Number Two: It’s Cause AND Effect, Not Cause OR Effect
People, for whatever reason, have become more prone these days to forgetting that actions have consequences. When you act like a stereotype, you lose the right to get angry at being thought of as a stereotype. When choose not vote, you lose the right to complain about the person in office. When you are not informed, you lose the right to an opinion. Or, on a more personal level, the first time you cut someone off in traffic, or fail to use your blinker, you lose the right to complain when someone else does the same thing to you.
This is perhaps the easiest of the rules to keep from breaking. All you have to do is think. Before you decide to drop twenty dollars on bottled water, consider the effects of that choice rather than, say, spending that money on a re-usable water filter which will produce the same results while saving the environment the cost of the creation of twenty plastic bottles.
All actions have consequences. Pure and simple. Become more aware of those consequences after they happen and you are less likely to face them again because next time, you will know them BEFORE they do and be in a position to stop them. Take control of your life and take responsibility for the things you say and do.
Rule Number Three: Not Knowing is Not a Good Enough Reason to Stop Looking
This is a big one. When people are forced to put aside blame and start to focus on the solutions, when they are asked what can you do to fix the problem, the most common response is, “I don’t know.” That’s fine. It’s a completely valid response, as long as it isn’t a terminal one.
Which leads me to rule number three, a phrase those around me are no doubt tired of hearing by now: I don’t know is a valid answer, but not a good enough reason to stop looking. If anything, it is, or should be, a call to action. Put it in perspective. If you don’t know how to prepare the only food available to you, do you starve to death? No, you figure out how to make it work. Maybe it isn’t how it was intended to be used, but it gets the job done. That’s called innovation.
When it comes to the world, the same rule applies. Just because you don’t know how you can make a difference doesn’t mean you can’t make a difference. Take a step back, look at the problem, and figure out a way to make things better.
Rule Number Four: Fear is Never a Good Enough Reason, On Its Own, Not to Act
Change is scary. It can be frightening as hell, but sometimes it’s necessary. Imagine a world where the forefathers of
So stand up and speak out. Act. Use your fear to drive you towards a solution, not away from it, because to cower means to have to linger in the presence of that which you fear all the longer.
Rule Number Five: Change is Possible
This is the single most important of all the ground rules for this project. It is far too easy to give in to the “I can’t make a difference” mentality. But change is possible, on every level. If you are unhappy in your life, stop complaining about it and do something to make it better. If you are upset with the injustice in the world, take action to change it. Don’t let the idea that you can’t do it alone stop you from trying. Because when one person stands, others will stand, when one voice is raised, it will be heard by someone. Just because you may not see the change that comes does not mean that it does not exist.
“The world is being torn apart by nothing more than fear.”
Those were the first words I ever heard him say. I’ll never forget that day. It was on my grandparents’ old TV, from my bedroom in the rundown little trailer park where I grew up. I was supposed to be doing homework, but I was really just drifting off into one fantasy world or another, staring at the pages of my algebra book. I was home alone, so I had the news on in the background because I was scared of the silence and the old set only caught the one channel. I was only twelve years old, so I didn’t know what it was I was afraid I’d hear were it too quiet, but, like he said, fear is an irrational thing.
He wasn’t much to look at; a small guy, not too thin, but you could tell he never played sports or anything. And he was younger than you’d have thought, once he started talking. His hair was a little unkempt and just a couple of shades too dark to be called mousy. The one thing about him that stood out, though, was his eyes. It wasn’t that they were a strange color or anything. They were just that blue that looks like new denim. But there was something in them that, when he spoke, held you there, almost like if you stared long enough or hard enough, you could see through them to a world that wasn’t as messed up as the one he was talking about.
His voice didn’t stand out much either. He wasn’t what you’d have called a born public speaker. He wasn’t a Kennedy, or even a Reagan. It wasn’t a deep, resonating voice, which would have looked funny coming out of him anyway. There was nothing special about it. It wouldn’t have been one you would’ve picked out in a crowded restaurant. But somehow the gravity of the things he said carried in that voice, in the sometimes halting way he said things, not with the calculated pauses of a politician, but the genuine loss of someone aware that he was trying to find a way to put words to something bigger than himself.
They asked people in my grandparents’ generation where they were when Kennedy was shot. In my parents’, it was where they were when the towers fell. Looking back now, to what seems like so long ago, I think that, should there ever be a question that defines our generation, it’ll be where we were the first time we heard him. I was twelve, in the back bedroom of my mom’s old trailer, and I’ll never forget those words.
“The world is being torn apart by nothing more than fear. Lots of people will tell you that fear isn’t as pressing a problem in the world as hate, or anger, or pride. But those are all just symptoms of the greater ill. We hate because we don’t understand, which scares us. Sometimes, it’s because we do understand, and that understanding places what we fear too close to us. Anger, righteous or not, is only the fear that something will happen, or happen again, that something we loved will be lost and that we will be left alone. And pride…Pride is the most insidious of them. Pride is the simple fear that we might be wrong, that we may face judgment in the eyes of others who have no right to pass it. It is the fear that what we believe to be true will be made false and that we will have to start over again down a path which can never be finished.
“Fear is irrational. It drives us, in any of its forms, like almost nothing else can. It clouds our minds. Nothing can exist in its presence. It devours like a fierce flame, burning away things like reason, mercy, empathy, and understanding, all of which are the keys to its undoing. We very often embrace it for that very reason, because it allows us to keep from feeling sadness, guilt, or pain, but forget that it also eats away at joy, love, and peace. We wield the flame, lashing out with it, unaware that, when it fades, as it must, those dark things will still be there, compounded further by the atrocities of our actions.”
“Think about how often, every day, you are faced with the choice to give in to fear and choose to willingly. People rally in their homes against the oppression of things like churches, governments, and a corporate culture which grows fat on the suffering of those it claims to feed. But when they walk out into the streets, their voices are quiet. They watch as their rights are eroded away, as those around them are subjugated, mumbling that it isn’t their problem and pray that it never, and this is the greatest tool of those who would seek to oppress, falls on them to become the ones who must stand up for what is right.”
Those words reached out to me through that tinny speaker and held my heart tight long after they faded. It felt like I was too young, too small too understand them. It wasn’t until years later that I would realize that my age had nothing to do with it. He was right. Fear was how we were being kept in check. Those in power, those truly in power, made every one of us feel the way I did that night, as I lay in the dark hours later, still dwelling on the things I’d heard. The message was simple enough for a child to understand because it had to be. We were all children, then, and it wasn’t until we were forced to face that fact that we could start to change it.