Pontification, just to get it off my mind

I realize how pompous I’m about to sound.

Let me just say, first of all, that I’m pretty old. Let me also say that when I think of who I was at 30, and compare that person to who I am now, there’s no way I would go back. I’m kinder, more tolerant and, if I do say so myself, wiser. A young friend of mine is bringing up some stuff for me, and I’m absolutely compelled to tell you (or her, and—lucky you—you get to come along for the ride) a few things I’ve learned.

First: I lived through the fervor and passion of the 70s. You know, when Earth Day first came to be, when the Vietnam War ended, when we (the young people, who were the ones who didn’t cause the problems and were going to be the ones to solve the problems) were well aware of the corruption, greed, apathy and general worthlessness of the world, i.e., the generations that came before us. We looked around and were appalled. We were going to fix it.

Then I blinked and it was thirty years later. And—I swear this really happened—I looked at pollution statistics comparing air quality in the 70s and 80s to the 00s and was shocked to see that pollution had gotten worse. What happened? We were going to fix it! We had become the ones in charge, so why hadn’t we done it? What happened?

Well, I guess the answer to that isn’t anything simple, and you’ll have to come up with your own conclusions. My point is that feeling very strongly about a cause, even one that affects people’s day-to-day lives, and believing with all your heart that it must be changed, doesn’t make it just happen. Apparently it takes some kind of sustained effort, over—maybe—decades and generations. And, believe me, the generations behind you are going to think you’ve done it all wrong, and they may not think the solutions you suggest are worth pursuing. Don’t be surprised at that.

Secondly: It’s a bad idea, not to mention naive and insulting, to think that the people who don’t agree with you are evil. Ditto for assuming they’re simply misinformed, and that if you’ll only reveal the truth to them—repeatedly and with ever-increasing stridency—they’ll come to realize you’re right. It may very well be that they know all the same facts that you know, and they’ve come to conclusions different than yours. And here’s the reason that happens: we’re all different. We each have our own perspective.

By all means, try to persuade people to your point of view! Do your best to convince them that your priorities are in the best interest of everyone around. Carefully explain all the reasons they should think like you do. But don’t allow yourself to believe that agreeing with you is minimum proof of intelligence. And if they don’t agree, it doesn’t mean they don’t understand.

Life is more complicated than that. Things are more complicated than that. People are more complicated than that.

Third: If you take the position that information sources supporting the opposing point of view contain misleading or deliberately inaccurate information, you must acknowledge that the ones that agree with you could possibly be just as flawed. Yes, you must. It’s completely absurd to think that one side has cornered the market on the truth while the other just flops around generating propaganda and trying to mislead people. Do even just the briefest logic check on that.

By the same token, if you believe your sources of facts are correct and well-informed you have to realize that at least some of the other guys’ sources are, as well. Yes, I know that sometimes you’ll hear, for example, that there were 2,000 protesters at a rally from one source while another source says 20,000. Only one of them is correct. My point is that it’s foolhardy and dangerous to assume that the one you believe is always correct. Keep an open mind and some healthy skepticism, even (or especially) about the things that you really, really want to be true.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, there are many ways of being. Many ways of living. Many ways to approach life, and (are you ready for the hard part) your way is not absolutely the one correct way to live. Your choices are not the only good choices. Your focus is not the one true focus that will reveal the light of truth to all. No, it’s not.

You’re passionate about politics and social justice. Someone else desperately wants to have kids and be a great parent. Their focus isn’t misplaced. (Really. Someone has to produce the next generation of revolutionaries.) It’s also okay if people want to spend their time partying, or hanging on every move Lady Gaga makes, or watching sports (hey!), or shopping or working on their car or going to school or trying to make Captain in the Air Force. You may think they’re silly, or wasting their lives, or that they don’t understand what’s important.

Really, your way is not the only valid choice, and thinking less of people because their focus takes them in a different direction lessens you. It diminishes you, and I promise you it’ll take some time to come back from that.

So. Believe in what you’re doing. Be passionate. Sustain the effort. Persevere, and try to convince the rest of the world to help you do it. But keep in mind that you’re living in a complex world. Embrace it, above and beyond everything else you do.

Done being pompous now. Think I’ll move on to irritatingly cheerful.

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