My parents made every effort to raise me to be socially and politically conscious. The world I was born into is flawed in an incredible number of ways, but I have always been taught to think critically about it and recognize what flaws I can work to change and which I should avoid personal involvement with. They were both preachers’ kids and came of age in the cultural aftermath of the 1960’s. These elements combined to create a belief structure that tries to focus on the power and potential of the individual to have an impact on society while tending to ignore or merely mourn over larger and more systemic problems that my parents believe it is beyond their power to change.
The vast majority of my thoughts and actions are the result of incongruence between my beliefs and values and the reality of the world we live in. My parents exposed me to the ideals that they believe are most important to humanity, such as peace, equality, compassion, consent, universal education, freedom. When I was younger I thought that these were values commonly held by all of humanity, and would naturally be upheld by a liberal democracy such as the United States. I was confused when I saw interactions on both the small and the large scale that were opposed to the humanistic ideas that had been so basic to my personal and social development. Peace keepers carry guns and other weapons to maintain social order. The democratic process still hasn’t asked me for my opinion after nineteen years as a citizen while convicted felons and undocumented workers are permanently, systematically, denied a voice. Wars are fought regularly based on potential tactical or economic benefit with money from my taxes. Those wars are fought by my peers who have either been convinced that this violence has humanitarian objectives or who seek an education, insurance, or other resources that the government will give them access to only after military service. I have the freedom to pursue a liberal arts education at a private college, but it is an exercise of my white and middle class privilege and requires that I exploit local people by paying tuition to an institution that doesn’t give its employees a living wage.
The more time I spend in the world the clearer it becomes to me that virtually everything it has to offer is achieved through power and coercion. The institutions that are theoretically established to cater to individual and community wants and needs more typically limit and manipulate both individuals and communities in the interest of their own perpetuation. I am haunted by power structures and hierarchies designed to exploit people as efficiently as possible while depriving them of what I consider their basic humanity. It is essential to our societal development that we look critically at the actions and structures of the institutions in our lives as well as being mindful of our own impact on the world around us. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.