This I Believe

Michelle - Seattle, Washington
Entered on May 19, 2006
Age Group: 18 - 30

I believe in considering the other side of the fence. A year ago I was studying and working in the South American country of Ecuador during a time of great internal political tension. What started as strikes and protests became more violent, and almost overnight people were talking of a revolution.

Having studied political and international studies in college, and traveled south of the equator looking for adventure, this all seemed exciting. The people were fighting against a corrupt leader who was more of a dictator then a president. It wasn’t until a conversation with Elena, a thirteen year old from the orphanage I volunteered at, that I realized the major shortcoming in this ever too popular plan to depose the “president”.

Elena and I instantly connected when I arrived at the orphanage. As I washed and cleaned each day, we’d chat about whatever was on her mind. I could tell she had not been there long, as her social skills were noticeably more advanced than the others, but her story was still tragic; her mother had died from cancer the year prior, and she had been here ever since.

One day, as I folded laundry, she started talking about how horrible the orphanage was, and how she longed to get out. Though I stayed positive and told her things would get better, I realistically knew they probably wouldn’t. She began to reveal an escape plan. She had worked out every detail that might arise between her bed and the orphanage walls. Part of me wanted to encourage her, as conditions here were terrible, but I also knew escaping was worse. On the other side of the fence lied the squalid city streets of a third world nation. She hadn’t considered this side.

In the grand scheme of things, scaling the fence was the easy part. The real challenges waited on the other side. I tried to caution her about what was ahead, explaining the dangers and difficulties involved. I asked her to wait and think about some of these issues, but it was too late. The next day when I arrived, she was already gone.

That night, as I laid in bed thinking about Elena, it occurred to me the opposition suffered from the same shortsighted thinking. In all the arguments about why the president should be overthrown, and how the president should be overthrown, no one discussed what they would do once the president was overthrown.

Two days later the presidential palace was stormed by rioters and the country was left with no valid constitution, no working congress, an illegitimate supreme court, and no leader.

The world we live in today has a lot of tough choices. I believe, when making these decisions, I have the obligation to think about the other side of the fence; its possibilities and its risks. Not just for me individually, but for everyone who might feel the vibrations of my jump.