What really gets under my skin are cotton-candy--or feel-good--maxims which hide their vagueness and ambiguity in social rhetoric. For example: "Be a teacher, they are the most important people in the world." Or, "Do the right thing." Or, "Love is all you need." Some of these become cliche's because they are so cheap and easy and non-reflective (which takes effort and risk). Anyone can preach them and know they are not going to offend anyone. But does that make the statements accurate or justifiable? I argue no. I think that any cotton-candy maxim needs to be looked at with a microscope because their lack of harshness allows their vagueness and ambiguity to go unnoticed. And that is very damaging.
Ever notice how socially unpopular statements are harshly scrutinized? We go over them with a fine-tooth comb, searching for fallacies and discrepancies, looking to dismantle them any way possible. Yet, if someone talk about something cotton-candyish like love, friendship, teaching, believing, god, or family, we give them a pass. I am for equal treatment of our premises. Let us look at one I just read.
"Teachers are the most admirable and important people in the world. Please please please be a teacher, even if only for a short time." Is that really advice or a poison? First off, not everyone is cut out to be a teacher. Some are indeed natural teachers, while others learn how to be teachers through developing the tools necessary. Then there are others who simply do not want to teach others. Some people may indeed be excellent communicators, being very productive and reflective, but just lack the tools or the will to teach others.
Second, not all teachers are actually good at teaching, want to teach for anything but a paycheck, or are that smart. I have taken many classes where each of these (or all of these) are true. Being a teacher can be a powerful thing, however stating that they are the most important people in the world is simply pandering to social niceties. Plus it glosses over how many teachers molest students. Please, let us not gloss over this frightening epidemic.
I will tell you who I think the most important and significant people in the world are: Individuals in the past. What? Why? How??
Well one, we can learn from them. From their accomplishments and failures. They are the ones who linked their own past to us, and since history is a rich, web-like network and not a linear chain, it inherently has breadth and significance. Both choice and non-choice are essentially choices, and--for the latter--a lack of a choice is still a choice. The individuals in our history have much to teach us in how they chose to act, believe and think, as well as how they choose to ignore, diffuse and reject. That seems to describe "significant" pretty well.
Despite this, our history does not limit or constrict us, it informs us, and thus has the capability to empower us. History is happening all the time, we just believe it is only that which appears in textbooks. Look around you, history is happening all the time.
History is one minute ago.
History is five minutes ago.
History was that choice you made yesterday to get involved when you should not have. Or should have.
Intellectually reflecting upon the network of individuals and actions that led to this present moment is extremely significant because we did not wake up today to a brand new world. We both earned and inherited this world, this culture, this value-set shoved down our throats. They are the most significant people. They precipitated change whether or not they knew it, just as we are doing at this very moment, which will be history tomorrow.
Let us be responsible with our choices, as well as our points of view. Saying what is popular and emotionally pleasing is vague and ambiguous in a time when precision and clarity are very much needed.
I just came across the story of the 12 year-old Australian girl who briefly united the digital world. By losing her teddy bear. The following is a clip from The Sunday Telegraph article:
"'It has been so traumatic,' Mrs Malcolm [girl's mother] told The Sunday Telegraph.
'We had been in London for a month on a family holiday and I put Teddy in the bag and locked it up so we wouldn't lose her - but Jess didn't want to go the 24 hours without her, so we took her out again and brought her on the plane.'
Jessica's grandmother had a teddy bear shop and gave her Teddy when she was born, and she has slept with her every single day since.
'If you know Jess, you know that Teddy is part of her life.'"
I understand the significance of artifacts in our lives, as well as how coming to another's aid can build relationships and teach valuable life lessons. I am not the best with seeing life lessons, but even I sees red flags all over the place.
The fact that she is twelve and in severe emotional distress at this "loss" is disturbing, however, that is an issue that she (and her enabling family) will deal with on an individual and micro-communal level, so it is not really pressing nor the business of the rest of the world. My problem was with how immediately and with such severity the world rallied.
What is the big deal, you may ask? Excellent question. Effort and time are finite resources. If used in one place, they cannot be used in another. If more and more of these stories become glorified as "restoring faith in humanity," then our ethical compass will become reinforced toward those types of solutions, rather than toward saving whales from military sonar experiments, preventing mines from being built which will destroy nature, preventing the earth's water supply from being poisoned, or protecting feminists from malice. (Regarding this last issue, it was just brought to my attention that activist and feminist Lierre Keith has been verbally and sexually threatened in anticipation of a talk she is about to give in Oregon.)
What I view as really scary is how the girl's mother said the digital world's rescue effort "restored her faith in humanity." Even Russell Crowe became involved! Her child did not have terminal cancer, was not trapped in the bottom of a well, was not taken hostage by terrorists, was not raped and left for dead; she lost her teddy bear due to her own negligence. The girl could have left the toy in the luggage as her mother suggested, but she "could not be without it." When it was lost, it was a great opportunity for real-world consequences but the rest of the world played the part of the great enabler and rallied to return it.
Helping one another in a time of need is a virtue, so long as we think before we do it, and think as we do it. If we help each other based on emotional impulse, then not only will we be global enablers, but we will be resetting our ethical compass away from actual, substantive problems like destruction of nature and human rights, rather than the historically-irrelevant loss of a 12-year old's security blanket.
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