Evil Children Hiding in the Shadows

By admin ~ September 30th, 2011 @ 5:13 am

As I was thinking about the articles from this morning’s newspaper, I thought of Christmas – not the 25th of December, in the warmth of mid-May, but of a scene out of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I thought of the scene where the second spirit, the Ghost of Christmas Present, is preparing to take leave of old Scrooge after taking him around to see the poverty and suffering infecting London at the time, hidden under the veneer of the culture and respectability of Scrooge’s entrepreneurial world. The spirit draws back his festive robes to reveal two small children huddled underneath. He explains to Scrooge that these children are the cause of suffering in the world, and he names them Ignorance and Want.

What led me to think about these two sad children from a long-ago literary and seasonal classic? It was an article about the overt racism that was being faced by Barack Obama’s campaign workers. Personally, I’m not a convinced Obama supporter. Yet, I am a convinced supporter of democratic principles worldwide and especially in my home country, the US. As I very quickly approach my 60th birthday, I’m probably more convinced of the potential in this country than ever before in my life. This remains true, even though in many ways the potential remains more promise than actuality.

If we comprehend that evil isn’t a positive force, but derives its power from what’s lacking (like the force of water draining from a bathtub), we’ll similarly comprehend how these two symbolic children are, indeed, evil: ignorance (lack of wisdom) and want (lack of the necessities of life). Into this vacuum is sucked the predictable fillers: hatred (the inner drive) and violence (the outward expression). Some of the deepest and most intractable social cancers we face are the results of these two ‘children’: racism, sexism, antisemitism, xenophobia, and homophobia, just to name a few.

I want to focus for a moment on only one of these children: Ignorance. Although I think that both children need to be cared for, this one can prove fatal to a democracy. Richard Lewontin wrote in The New York Review of Books in 2004, “The founders of the American state understood that the proper functioning of a democracy required an educated electorate. It is this understanding that justifies a system of public education and that led slaveholders to resist the spread of literacy among their chattels.” My experience suggests that we agree with all this in principle, but we’re unwilling to do what’s necessary to implement it in practice.

I’ve often heard (and experienced) that education and training get treated like society’s poor step-children when it comes time to pay the bill. The corporate training budget suffers first and most when there’s an economic downturn. We want first-class schools but the sacrifices necessary to pay for them seem too difficult to face. No one can force education or wisdom on anyone who doesn’t want it. Why, I wonder, would anyone not value these things? In the richest nation on earth, does it come down to a question of cost? I don’t think so. I’m afraid that what it really comes down to is a matter of goals and values. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that we value wealth and comfort (the bottom line as nurtured by the bean-counters) over wisdom, understanding, precision and expertise.

To be a good spouse or parent, to be a good entrepreneur or professional or career woman or man, to be a good citizen, each of us needs continually to deepen our knowledge and understanding. I believe that we destroy what we hate, we hate what we fear, we fear what we don’t understand. What’s more, the life strategy of comprehension that I promote should remind us that we humans see what we want to see. The less wisdom and understanding we have, the more rumor and innuendo we’ll latch onto to support our beliefs. It’s a surprisingly wide chasm that needs to be bridged before we can actually accept deep down inside that every other person is another self just like me.

So what’s your attitude toward education and learning – not in theory, but in practice? How much time do you allot in your week to really learning something? What sources (plural) provide your daily dose of news? Are your discussions with others filled with facts and new insights and are they thought-provoking, or are they more like current affairs gossip sessions? What did you learn yesterday? What have you done to help banish those two evil children of despair from your home, your business, your country, your world?

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