Defining Who We Are
tells us that everything we do and say not only defines who
we are, but contributes to what it means to be human. As human beings,
our actions reflect upon, and therefore influence, everyone.
of humanity includes a wide variety of contradictions, disparate
beliefs, an almost contagious mediocrity, and dangerous extremism.
Our history includes the brilliance of enlightened philosophers,
and genocidal tyrants. Government protected freedom, along with
slavery. Inspiring declarations of equality, continually stained
by vestiges of discrimination. Civilized laws twisted by corruption.
Magnificent works of art and literature, competing with ignorance
and hate propaganda. A reverence for human nature, continually spit
upon by war, terrorism and torture.
Most of us recognize
the nobler aspects of humanity, even as we disregard them at the
behest of less honorable agendas. We are adept at ignoring our mistakes,
denying them when possible, or deflecting criticism by blaming someone
else. When all else fails, we revise history to justify our errors.
We do this despite
those dignified aspects of human nature that we long ago enshrined
to inspire us all. Truth. Freedom. Respect for just laws. Personal
integrity. Democracy. Fair play. Civil rights. The humane advance
our everyday priorities, however, can we say that these ideals actually
To a certain
extent they do. Even when we hold them in reserve, their inspirations
are available. During times of great stress or danger, however,
their guiding principles often give way to expediency.
The recent report
on CIA torture provides an example. After 9-11, those of
us in the United States were suddenly confronted with vulnerabilities
for which we were unprepared. In a single morning, our world vision
had changed-our illusions shattered. We felt panic, confusion, threatened
by super-villains. They had to be "super" to do what they
We learned that
day, but quickly forgot, that hubris is a shocking dream to wake
This was not
supposed to happen. We believed that if there is any God in heaven
or justice in life, our ideals should have tipped the scales to
But where are
these ideals in our everyday lives? Enshrined in monuments and history
books? Things of the past belong to the past. They only exist when
we bring them back to life now.
inevitable when we prop up our illusions at the expense of our ideals.
The outrage of 9-11 called for a swift and violent response,
without regard for consequences. We rose to the occasion confident
in our justification.
assured us that Americans are not a people who torture. And yet
we did. It was no big secret. Committing torture was now added to
the definition of what it means to be American. Like so many others,
we affirmed that a state sponsored disregard for life was part of
what it means to be human. Still disconnected from the mandates
of reason and conscience, we then invaded Iraq, thinking that a
show of power would settle all the problems of the Middle East.
We killed over 200,000 people, while assuring ourselves, beyond
all reason, that their families and friends would welcome us as
commonsense, and our own moral values, we are still living with
the consequences of our mistakes.
have to be this way?
tells us that everything we do and say defines who we are. This
is not just a statement of fact. It is the means on how to change
things for the better.
If we purposely
and consistently engage our highest ideals, we add them to what
it means to be human. Inspiring others to do the same, will spread
across the world like ripples on a pond.
No war, no scientific
breakthrough, no political leader or wishful thinking, is going
to do that for us.
to do it ourselves.