Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I am

In response to a Times inquiry on “what’s wrong with the world,” G. K. Chesterton wrote, “I am.”

Succinct – yet its truth rings clear. We each have a role, however big or small this may be. There are many problems in this world: Poverty, disease, war, misogyny, racism, homophobia, climate change, homelessness, slavery, fear. Our role in creating, perpetuating, or ending them begins and finishes with us.

This world is designed to be competitive. The majority of us are taught this from day one to be sportier, stronger, smarter, popular, charismatic “We are ‘rational, self-interested’ beings,” says the economist. “Survival of the fittest,” says the evolutionary biologist. I don’t need to tell you where this comes from – one blames white males. Another blames capitalism. Another blames simple scientific biology that states we have a competitive nature, built into us to survive.

But maybe not. Let’s take a look, for example, at my family. As a baby, my parents did not compete with me for my food, my housing, or my clothes. I was a crying, pooping, runt of a creature, but they loved me. They provided for me. We ‘cooperated’ to survive.

Kropotkin suggested that human society was able to thrive and evolve because of a tendency towards cooperation, towards love and compassion for one another. We can look to food banks, women’s shelters, Big Brother programs, breakfast programs, NGOs, peace and healing circles, not for profit hospitals, community gardens, and rehabilitation centers. There is a need to recognize the human capacity for good in this world. To recognize that there is, indeed, hope. That we need not always ‘compete’ for ‘success’ – whatever that even means – and instead, cooperate towards a society that we can all feel proud to live in.

They say that money is the root of all evil. I think we all realize that this is wrong – to an extent. The person living in destitute poverty, whose children are starving, cannot afford decent healthcare, or access to housing in a good neighbourhood will very likely realize that money is, in fact, quite a good thing. But once these needs are filled, and you’re left in a life of excess, then what are we doing with this money? Buying exotic artwork? Filling the house with trinkets, gold pottery, fancy furniture, wearing your fortune on your necks or your wrists? Cooperation with society does not thrive in such environments. And, indeed, this money is serving only to isolate you more and more from humanity, and increasingly in yourself. Until you’re left alone.

Many of us compete for ‘distinctions’, recognitions that state our ‘success’ in the world. Great! But make sure that you don’t fill your head with the idea that this is the only the result of you – this is the result of your teachers, your parents, your friends, and everyone else who has given you the knowledge, the questions, the attitudes, the discipline, and the encouragement to succeed. Recognize that one’s success is the result of the whole working together – and try to give back accordingly.

At the end of my life, when it comes to answer the question, “what is wrong with this world?”, my answer will surely be “I am.” But I hope, that in some minute way, that when asked what is right with this world, I can answer “We are.”

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