One doesn't discover new lands without consenting to
lose sight of the shore for a very long time.
Emerson and Thoreau, offered us the idea that societies progress,
not so much by the will and ideas of the masses or rulers, but by the
power of the independent, self-reliant thinker, who discovers new
inventions, knowledge, solutions, and ways of living. That idea lived
100 years and influenced Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the
resistance to the Vietnam war, the Women's Movement, and the
Nuclear Freeze Movement. Maybe Eisenhower will eventually be right,
perhaps it will be independent, thinking, caring persons all over the
world who drag their governments into peace.
Cynicism and pessimism abound today. Nihilistic intellectuals tell
us that we have lost our way because religion no longer tells us what
is good, that our "minimal self" can't find meaning and, therefore, has
lost hope, that our "saturated self" is overwhelmed by information,
ideas, and choices, that we can't really ever know the "truth" because
every view has some basis in reality, that science only creates myths
in the same category as religious or political dogmas, that ultimately
life is meaningless. Against this gloomy view are calls for
"remoralization," the development of values and goals that provide
meaning and hope to every life (Bellah, et al., 1985; Etzione, 1993;
Prilleltensky, 1994; Wallach & Wallach, 1990; Smith, 1994). The use
of psychological knowledge in the caring for others is central to all
these views. If your life plan ignores morals, scientific truths, and
reality, it will probably not serve you well.
As with the intellectuals, there is a tendency everywhere--workers,
students, poor, affluent--to pessimistically ask, "What can I do?" or
say, "You can't do anything about it." We all have excuses: "I'm too
busy," "it's not my fault," "Somebody should do something; they will."
And, thus, we do nothing. Yet, some people, acting on their
conscience, have done a lot for the rest of us. It takes thought,
courage, and commitment to an ideal bigger than oneself. If your
cause is self-serving, you will not persuade many. If your cause is
others-serving, almost everyone respects that.
We all need a cause, a dream, a hope for something better. We
need a plan. There is a thrill, a satisfaction, a feeling of fulfillment
when we struggle to achieve our dream, if it hurts no one and helps
others. Many of us cry with joy and feel pride in being human when we
see someone struggle for a great cause and/or overcome adversity or
misfortune. Don Quixote faced overwhelming odds; Lincoln and 529,
272 others died in the struggle to free the slaves and save the union;
President Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you..."
and we joined the Peace Corps by the thousands; Jill Kinmont, a