Wisdom is knowing what to fight for. Ultimately, I believe that what we really need to be fighting for is each other -- for our families, our communities, and our world.
This is a time of year for reflection. As the new year approaches and we think back over the old year, we think about what we've done and where we're going. What legacies are we creating? Will our children and grandchildren inherit legacies of poverty, racism, hatred, and violence? Or will they inherit something else?
While we may not be able to solve the world's problems in a single generation, we can at least leave our children and grandchildren with a legacy that helps them meet the challenges they will face. As parents, grandparents, teachers, and community leaders, we can ensure that the young grow to be emotionally skillful, academically competent, and socially responsible. We can also ensure that we leave them with a vision of the kind of world toward which they should strive. The best way to instill in them that vision is for them to see us striving toward it.
What is the vision toward which we should strive? To answer that question, I have looked to the words and insights of several diverse individuals in the hopes that at least one will speak to you on a personal level -- Albert Camus, Tom Robbins, Theodore Roosevelt, and Margaret Mead...
We must reach beyond what is to what can be. In the words of Nobel Prize-winning French writer and thinker Albert Camus:
We ask only that people think it over carefully and then decide whether they will add to the misery of the world to achieve vague and distant goals, and whether they will accept a world crowded with weapons where brother kills brother; or whether, on the contrary, they will avoid as much bloodshed as possible in order to give future generations -- who will be even better armed than ourselves -- a chance for survival... What we must fight is fear and silence, and with them the spiritual isolation they involve. What we must defend is dialogue and the universal communication of human beings.
We tend to have such fatalistic beliefs, that "this is the way it has to be." It is time to change that story. The world can be better. My vision of that world is characterized by four fundamental values. The first is responsibility -- taking a view that emphasizes that each of our actions is related to the bigger picture. We must answer to each other, to those who have come before us, and to those who will come after us. Native Americans have traditionally looked out over seven generations in their thinking and decision-making. They have thought about how their actions in the present will affect the next seven generations in the future. In our rush to get what we think is rightfully ours, we seldom act as if there will be any future generations at all. Individuals may carry out different and unique roles, but we must all assume responsibility for our actions and contribute to the larger, world good -- even when it may not seem in our immediate and personal best interests to do so.
The second fundamental value is equality. All human beings regardless of color, ethnicity, sex, or age deserve certain basic human rights -- civil, political, and social. We must respect diversity and pursue tolerance. We must be understanding and empathetic. When these forces are in play, individuals can freely participate in a social society, which is critical to social order.
The third fundamental value is justice. Justice must not only be an ideal, but there must be a workable system in place to implement it. Without public standards of justice and set expectations, individuals become demoralized and drop out of civic society. Life will never be completely fair, but a reasonable system of justice offers at least a measure of hope.
The fourth fundamental value is integrity, both personal and social. Without honesty and trust, suspicion prevails. We end up implementing elaborate security measures which can never protect us fully and serve only to imprison us to a greater degree than that which we fear. These security measures drain money and resources and create an environment that breeds fear. Without the integrity of the individual and the system, basic social interaction gets stuck firmly in the mud.
I know that there are other values worth striving for. But for me, the four fundamental values of responsibility, equality, justice, and integrity are the foundation for a vision of a better world. They are essential if we are ever to find personal or world peace. These are also perhaps the hardest values to live. It takes courage to pursue them.
What are you willing to risk to pursue them? Asks novelist Tom Robbins:
You risked your life, but what else have you ever risked? Have you ever risked disapproval? Have you ever risked economic security? Have you ever risked a belief? I see nothing particularly courageous in risking one's life. So you lose it, you go to your hero's heaven and everything is milk and honey 'til the end of time. Right? You get your reward and suffer no earthly consequences. That's not courage. Real courage is risking something you have to keep on living with, real courage is risking something that might force you to rethink your thoughts and suffer change and stretch consciousness. Real courage is risking one's clichés.
And then, are you willing to support those who do have the courage to risk? In the words of Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.
So where does this leave you and I, the ordinary folk? We obviously want to make a difference in the lives of the people we love, our children and grandchildren. But I also think we have an obligation to try to leave a bigger legacy. Can you and I -- ordinary people -- change the world? Can we change the future course of history? I have to believe that each one of us can. I leave you with Margaret Mead's assertion: "Never doubt that a small group of dedicated, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." It's the only thing that ever has.
From Holiday Activity Kit by Susan V. Bosak ©2003