Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Connections - An Open Letter

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)

The Arts

Culture & Intercultural Dynamics

Civil Rights

Economics & The Corporate Mentality


Environmental Issues

Equality: Race, Gender, and Lifestyle Issues

Government & Politics





Poverty & Charity

The Sciences

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 America had been too afraid to declare their independence, if those in the civil rights era had been too afraid to stand up for their rights. Bravery is found not in a lack of fear, but rather in acting despite it.

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 Speaker

“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.