The Butterfly Effect


The world is such a complex and sometimes confounding place. Here in the United States we are fascinated by the Democratic and Republican primaries and buzzing over the meaning of Beyonce’s newest album. Meanwhile over in Nepal the people who suffered great loss in the earthquakes of just a year ago are still waiting resignedly for some kind of relief. They live in tents and tin shanties without any real hope that they will soon find the comfort for which they long. Even if financial compensation is forthcoming it will amount to only around $2000. We complain that our lifestyles are not improving and they quietly accept that the world is corrupt and unfair. Just as time is relative so is one’s economic and political state.

We’ve all heard one of our presidential contenders using language that would normally be considered offensive and yet he continues to hold the lead in primary after primary. At the same time a group of police officers in San Francisco have been fired for sending one another texts that have been deemed to be racist in tone. Yet another presidential candidate has been caught in a number of lies and questionable situations and nonetheless seems to be on the threshold of becoming the party’s standard bearer. Ordinary people without power and credentials lose their reputations and their means of living for similar infractions. Somehow we are willing to ignore and forgive some people even when the evidence that they are unworthy of our allegiance is overwhelming. We humans are a conundrum.

I read all of the time. I especially enjoy going to CNN first thing in the morning to get an overview of what is happening in the world. I peruse the articles while I eat my breakfast and awaken my brain with a slug of caffeine. I tend to parse the meaning of the various events and do a bit of comparing and contrasting. I always loved to challenge my students to view the world from different perspectives. It’s too easy just to accept the stories about which we hear at face value. Being a devil’s advocate is a good thing, albeit often tiring. Critical thinking keeps even our icons human. No man or woman on earth should be immune to our questions and appraisals. As soon as we become doting fanboys and girls we lose our ability to discern the truth and that is one of the reasons that our world is so often troubled.

None of us ever has all of the answers. Even our most incredible heroes were imperfect. The question is not whether or not an individual has flaws but rather how much those shortcomings affect his/her ability to lead with wisdom and fairness. If we were to demand that our leaders have spotless souls, we would forever be a disorganized rabble. If we were to condemn those with feet of clay, we would be unable to find someone on whom we are willing to depend. Still, the history of the world has proven time and again that we are at our very best when we strive to work together as humankind. Our finest moments have occurred when we were selfless and willing to accept that each person is unique and therefore in need of the freedom that allows differences to bloom and flourish.

Progressives have long fought for the rights of all people to live as they see fit and to think as they wish. I love that philosophy but become wary when I hear those selfsame defenders of freedom wanting to criminalize those who disagree. Conservatives aim to protect the Constitution and to maintain the beliefs of the Founding Fathers. It seems a noble cause until the thinking becomes so rigid that it does not allow for the very give and take that our founders were willing to accept in order to form our union. It seems that there are contradictions every which way that we turn.

I have read that the anger that is sweeping over the world today is not just shaking up governments but also rending friendships in two. It seems that many people are turning their backs on onetime companions who strongly disagree with them. It is an especially confusing way to behave in a country like ours where the government was built on the idea that we are entitled to our own opinions. From both the left and the right we seem to contradict the most basic principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Somehow we appear to be more driven by personal interests than by a consideration of what may be best for the majority of the people. We have forgotten that we will never be able to completely please everyone. All that we can hope to do is to do what seems most right. Unfortunately the very idea of working together has become political suicide. We most admire those with big mouths and crazy ideas even knowing that what they propose is little more than fantasy. Meanwhile the world at large is on fire. The poor citizens of Nepal continue to live in deplorable conditions. We fight and complain and ignore the real problems. It is easier to boycott Target over its bathroom policy than to travel to a troubled country to render aid like so many of my good and devoted friends have done.

I truly wish that we might be able to have constructive dialogue once again. I still manage to get such conversations going with young people who seem more willing to acquire knowledge and discuss diffferences without letting their emotions impede. Maybe it is because they accept the idea that they are still in a learning phase of life. They are curious and anxious to unearth new ideas and information. Somehow as we grow older we forget that our educations must never cease.

If we were to give one gift to future generations it would be similar to the one granted to us way back in 1776, when an incredibly diverse group of men considered the possibilities of a new kind of world. They came together under threat of death from backgrounds so different that they were the original motley crew. They were driven by the idea that certain truths and unalienable rights belong to all mankind. They did not quite perfect the promise outlined in their noble words. Most of them were still bound to the thinking of their time. They disenfranchised women and perpetuated slavery. Perhaps their omission was one of the greatest mistakes ever or perhaps it was the only first step available if they were to move forward. Whatever we may believe about their actions two hundred years later, their work laid the groundwork for revolutionizing the way we humans live and interact in society. Today, in spite of continuing problems, we still live like kings and queens compared to our brothers and sisters in faraway places like Nepal or Syria. Our way of life is possible because our forefathers were willing to set aside their differences for the common good. That is what we all need to remember as we set about determining the future of our country.

Whether we like it or not we are all part of the same world. What happens to someone living in a rainforest affects us just as our actions affect them. What we do or don’t do in Kentucky touches us all. It has oft been said that even the flapping of a butterfly’s wings changes the earth as we know it. There are few simple answers or one size fits all philosophies for dealing with the complexities that surround us. The only real way to see progress is to possess a willingness to consider each question without being constrained by pre-conceived notions or unbreakable alliances. It also demands a readiness to sometimes sacrifice our own comfort to improve the way of life for those who are in dire distress. We may not need that brand new car or a thousand extra square feet of house nearly as much as someone in Nepal requires a tiny sliver of dignity and security. Perhaps if we begin to think beyond our own feelings and needs we will find the kind of world that makes us all far more content. It’s certainly worth thinking about.


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