Sunday, March 9, 2008

My This I Believe Essay

I don't think this follows the letter of the law for This I Believe essays. I think it is a few words too long. But here it is, nonetheless. See for details.

Yesterday when my daughter wanted to play with the broom that her cousin was currently sweeping with I made them take turns. Explaining that she had to wait two minutes to get what she wanted to a year and a half old wasn’t easy. Convincing her to give up her prized broom to her cousin a mere two minutes later wasn’t a popular idea either. When I started thinking about trying to write a This I Believe Essay, it was easier for me to think of what I thought other people believed then to try and articulate my own beliefs in a concise way. So I started telling my friends what I thought they believed. Since it was mostly positive, this pushy move was received relatively well (see my list of other people’s beliefs in this issue of Boomvang). Since I told my main man Mitch what I thought he believed, he was kind enough to do me the same favor and help jump start this essay. Here’s what he said (finally we get to the tie-in to the start of this essay), “You believe in fairness and that one person can make a difference.” Now this isn’t what I would have said but it does resonate with me and the choices I have made in my life (like timing the broom usage of toddlers).

When I was growing up and my brother and I would fight over something or he would get something that I didn’t get, I would cry to my mom, “That’s not fair!!!” and she would reply, “Life’s not fair.” I think she was trying to harden me to the realities of life in a way that her mother never did. Her mother was a sweet, church-going woman who didn’t break my mom to the realities of a world that doesn’t share readily so I think she was trying to do us a favor by breaking it to us early that life wasn’t fair. This concept completely backfired with me and resulted in an excessive concern for fairness in all personal and world relations. I know life isn’t fair but I don’t think that should be an excuse for not striving to make it as fair as possible. How does this actually come into practice in my life? Well, not as much as I would like it to. Some amount of beliefs are about striving. Here’s how I strive for fairness. I’m not psyched on living on the backs of other people’s misery so I try not to buy things made in sweatshops or by underpaid children. But it’s hard to tell what things are made that way and I do still get sucked in by bargain stylish goods made in far away countries for which I know nothing of their provenance. I try to buy fair trade goods like tea and chocolate. And every summer I help mentor ten super smart high school kids from innercity and rural school districts in southern California that are under-funded and under-staffed. It’s not fair that some of these kids don’t write as well, or read as well, or think of themselves as well as some of their wealthier, suburban counterparts. I don’t know all the ins and outs of why this is, but I have seen this unfairness in action. So for ten weeks every summer, these kids work for us and we work some on their reading, and writing, and confidence. They work hard for us, and they get paid, and the underlying message we give out is, “You are smart. Your work is worth something. You can be a scientist, or an artist, or a park ranger. Go to college. Kick a**.”

I’m not as active politically as I would like to be. And I don’t do enough for global fairness. I don’t do anything to help fight AIDS, or global poverty, or even local poverty. But like I said, values are about striving. And in the words of Monty Python, “I’m not dead yet.” So there is always tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after.

So what about the one person can make a difference thing. That sounds a little holier than thou. The idea there is that if you can do something you like, and make a living at it, and have it be a little bit of a positive contribution to the world, then that is a great thing. For me, I’m trying to give a little bit of a help to the plants of the Santa Monica Mountains, a globally rare ecosystem outside of Los Angeles. I do little things like pull weeds, and bigger things, like try to think about how people can do things differently and help out the plant world (like not plant heinously aggressive weeds in their yards right next to a national park). There’s other things that individuals do to make a difference, like adopt animals from the pound, and make their neighbors banana bread when they are sick, or planting sunflowers next to the sidewalk. It all adds up.

For my last paragragh I just want to list some other things that I believe in. It’s always good to end with a list, in my opinion.
I believe in a good story,
and in the independence of cats,
that sunshine can sometimes be oppressive,
and that everyone deserves a good park,
that all plants are not created equal,
and that the potato is the best vegetable.
I believe that nothing beats a peer-reviewed journal for information gathering,
and that baked goods go a long way towards happiness,
that orange, or maybe yellow, or possibly green, is the best colorand that niceness is under-rated.

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