Reading history you learn just how violently brutal our ancestors were to each other. Read about people being drawn and quartered, most famously William Wallace, and you shake your head at the cruelty of the slow death. Listen to the Hardcore History podcast and every episode is about the brutality of mankind in wars from raids of Genghis Kahn to the Rape of Nanking. This kind of horror should serve as an active deterrent for all future wars, and yet memories fade, people in leadership positions don’t learn the lessons of the past, or worse think of war in terms of a business transaction; a deal to be made, a win in the books, more for me, less for you.
I’ve no tolerance for the ignorant in positions of power. That old Spider Man “with great power comes great responsibility” quote is true. But too many don’t honor that responsibility. If you rise to a position of power, you only deserve it so much as you earn it every day in how you rise to the occasion. Rise in embracing the lessons of history. Rise in meeting the people you lead eye-to-eye. Rise in acting decisively with compassion, dignity, humility and honor.
The opposite of great responsibility is backroom betrayals, spreadsheet business decisions that destroy people’s lives, trophy hunting, and ego-driven decision-making. Padding the bank accounts of “leaders”, but big steps back for humanity. The world needs more honorable leaders who rise to the role. Less power-grabbing, wealth-seeking, frail egos. When we take our collective eye off the people grabbing for power, we’re left with few good choices at the top. There are plenty of examples of that on the world stage, on Wall Street, and in turf wars around the globe.
There’s hope too. Many are rising to make the world a better place. Public servants who take the term to heart. Driven individuals who sacrifice time, money and position for others. Listen to a cancer research doctor to learn what selfless purpose it. Look at the MOSAIC Expedition on the Arctic, deliberately freezing their ship into the ice to better understand climate change. And look at the people in the International Space Station, zipping around the globe, collaborating with each other no matter the nationality. The mix of people changes with every mission, but they all manage to work together towards common goals. Their survival depends on it. They’re just a fragile little ball flying around in space, highly dependent on the people around them to rise to the occasion.
The analogy to the rest of us on Earth should be obvious, and yet we have too many people who think only of themselves, who don’t rise to the role they’re in. They don’t seem to realize or care that our survival depends on it. We can destroy the planet easily, we can wipe out entire cities in seconds. We can cut down rainforests for profit, overfish for short term gain, contaminate groundwater to wring oil out of the ground, and start wars to collect on old grudges. But we’re all living on this fragile ball flying around in space, and rising to the occasion to keep it livable for thousands of generations to come is really the only choice.
For the individual, pointing at corrupt politicians is an easy out. I vote, but I didn’t vote for that guy. But too many don’t run for public office because it’s a really tough job. You are scrutinized, berated, mocked and threatened. Who needs that? We all need that “Man in the Arena” hero who fights for what is right. History favors the bold. We need more people who rise to the role, fight through the nonsense and make the place better for having been there. How will future generations look back at our history? If the last three years have done anything, they’ve reignited a passionate call to serve, and I’m encouraged by the numbers of people who are rising up to say choose me instead.
And I’m reminded once again of Walt Whitman, asking a similar question in a time of change, and I’m encouraged:
“Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.” – Walt Whitman, O Me, O Life!
And the next question, from Dead Poet’s Society, “What will your verse be?”