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Holding out for something better

| Sunday, February 23, 2014

Since coming to Washington for the semester, I’ve frequently wandered around the monuments.

I’ve gone on the weekends, on the way home from my internship and at random hours of the night. Each time is as awe-inspiring as the last. I find some measure of inspiration in their marble, some measure of hope in their presence. I find some measure of strength in the quotes strung around memorials, monuments and Kennedy’s eternal flame. Ultimately, my time in D.C. has only further reinforced a pair of thoughts I had before coming here. The first is that we live in a nation of immense opportunity and promise, one that is capable of providing a shining light for good that can truly illuminate the world. The second is that we can do more to fulfill that promise.

I think we kid ourselves when we pretend the most hotly debated issues have a simple answer. I think the people of our country have genuine differences, and those differences demand discourse worthy of the importance of such issues.

I think we belittle both the issues and ourselves when we protest and harass rather than help. I see the debate being diminished when someone screams at those trying to access a Planned Parenthood. I think the debate is weakened by being dismissive of a given religion or the ideas they bring. I think the country isn’t served by militant protest but rather by constructive action. The March for Life sends a much stronger, more positive message than the guy throwing graphic photos in kids’ faces outside the White House. Working to support mothers and address the societal causes of issues proves more helpful, and effective, still.

I think regardless of one’s stance on an issue, we can applaud those who speak, write or march for an idea they find just. I think we can admire those who don’t yell or demean, but talk. We need more of Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly debating each other. Both sides have ideas that deserve to be represented in the marketplace of ideas, and great debates should take place over these ideas. We need less of Glenn Beck’s mindless, conspiracy-laden attacks, Ted Cruz’s obstructionism and Bill Maher’s cheap shots.

I think we can support those who don’t wag fingers, but rather offer a hand, doing what they can to fix what they see wrong with the world. I think the differences in our country are far larger than any individual, and to protest by shaming someone seeking help or labeling them this or that is a slap in the face of the promise this country is capable of. I believe we can build society up without tearing each other down. And I think this building of society begins with each and every one of us.

When I consider those who I would like to emulate in my life, to take after, I think most of my family and friends who have lived for others. I think of those who have worked so I could succeed. I think of those who have volunteered for the good of those they know in their community and those they will never meet. I think of my parents and grandparents, who have worked so I could be where I am. I think of friends who, amidst the demands of classes and jobs and their own lives, find time to volunteer for charities or churches, to advocate and to mentor. I think we can find it within most of us to follow the examples of those few who push for more. I know I can do more to live like those I wish to embody. I suspect we all can.

I think I’m a pretty optimistic person. I like embracing grand ideals, gestures and movements. But I also think my desire for us to do better is more feasible than delusional. I think my hopes for societal improvement are grounded in reality. I think those that say I’m naive are too burdened by the weight of their cynicism. Their view of tomorrow is too encumbered by a sense of what’s been rather than what can be.

I think I’m far too young — I think we’re all too young — to embrace such a dismal view of our future. Whether you’re seven, 17 or 60, I think we can all find hope in tomorrow and work toward making our vision of it a reality. I think we are rightfully optimistic in our ability to improve the world we’ve inherited, to talk to one another and address the issues we see in society.

Maybe we shouldn’t be. Maybe we should accept a fractured system, a hyper-polar political environment and factions of society that increasingly are concerned with their own kind and themselves rather than others. Maybe that’s what our future holds. Maybe that’s what we already have. But I say screw that. I’m not ready to buy that. Not yet. Hopefully, not ever. In the immortal words of Will Hunting, I’m holding out for something better.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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