By Vernon A. Williams, Gary Crusader
Just what do you say to students who have witnessed tyrannical leadership in the nation’s capital supplanting everything they have learned in school about democracy and government? How do you restore the faith of those young people acquainted with such a cowardly Congress that it would watch children die before risking lobbyist dollars?
This is not the first time America has faced adversity. The “flower power” generation was an affront to every institution that reflected the status quo. The War in Vietnam pitted friends, neighbors and family members against each other. The civil rights movement created some of the most brutal images the country has known. We are no strangers to adversity.
But there is something different about these days. People feel it, even if they can’t quite put their finger on it. During the most disheartening experience, there was somehow the thought that more people want to get things right than wrong. Even when the moral victories were far and few between, there was a climate of forbearance and civility that rose above the fray.
Now in the most civil of circles, the incivility is palpable. Human suffering has become less intolerable to the minds of those driven by power, profit and the illusion that they are simply lending credence to the inarguable perception of superiority. Why would so many be so comfortable with so much pain being heaped on those so disadvantaged.
Perhaps a simple way to put it is, America used to cheer for the underdog. Even if people identified more with the power brokers, there was this inextinguishable fire burning inside our most altruistic spirit. Some would even sacrifice a measure of their own comfort or possessions or position if it lightened the load of some of the “have nots.”
Not anymore. It’s every man for himself and the arrogant mantra, “I got mine – you get yours.” A certain segment of our citizenry feel irreversibly convinced that it will cost them too high of a price to assure that those on the lower end of the spectrum – socially and economically – are given a fairer shake. People are convinced that they made it on their own – why should they help.
Those are the nicer ones in our midst. Another group altogether is aware that they enjoy garish levels of opulence but would rather fight than switch. There is no longer a sense of conviction to what elevates the whole.
One group is making it payday to payday, and grateful. Another has it a little better but teeters on the brink of going either way. Yet another societal clique is living comfortably with the three-level home and four car garage and simply close their eyes to the blight. And finally, the extremely wealthy play all the cards right to make sure that they remain “top dog” in the human food chain. Evil geniuses that they are, they have influenced the masses that one percenters are the solution.
Painting that grave, but truthful, scenario, I return to the original question. What do you tell those college graduates who are making the transition from campus to career in the spring of 2018? If you are like me, you want to encourage them and make certain that they recognize their potential and are filled with hope. But if you are like me, you want them to face some of the awful realities of the moment and the hurdles they will inevitably be forced to jump.
It is a quagmire; one of the dilemmas of our time. For many of us, the question is not just theoretical. Each year around this time I speak to groups of graduating seniors – usually at Indiana University in Bloomington or IUPUI in Indianapolis. This week, speaking to a group of honor graduates completing what is called The Groups Program at IUB, I confronted the challenge head on.
In my relatively brief time on the mike, I chose to focus on elements of empowerment rather than circumstances working to their detriment. They know what’s happening. They watch the news every day. They talk in small and large groups like the rest of us. They get stressed out over the careless conversation coming from the mouths of our sorry excuses for leadership in government as well as the ruthless profit mongers.
I shared messages echoed by speakers who preceded me to the podium and followed. Believe in yourself. Believe in one another. Strive for excellence. Refuse to be disrespected. Hold accountable those whose job it is to serve you. Relish friendships and know that no matter what you encounter, there is a higher power that has the final say – no matter how confusing the moment.
I stressed giving back because the most powerful level of achievement is not personal success but the capacity to be transcendent, to be a transformational agent in your circles, your society, and your world. It occurred to me that rather than languish on gloom and doom, it would be more empowering to focus on the promise for change reflected in their hearts and minds.
When you speak to the Class of 2018, just follow the logic of Mahatma Gandhi, that they should BECOME the change that they want to see. Powers in government don’t have a chance if they organize, unify, strategize, vote and hold folks accountable.
My remarks concluded with a word from the Lord. Share it with any graduate that you encounter. It is taken from Jeremiah 29:11 and simply says: “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prospect you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And the word of God is final.
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference-makers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].