Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Can You Make a Difference? Thoughts on Cheering Freedom

Whenever people stand up for a change against a repressive status quo, it invigorates me. It could very well be that the change they are seeking is not substantively different, but be it instant or a slow progression, it is still evolution. Any moment that arouses the hearts and minds of people to stand up, seek truth and take peaceful action is a moment deserving of applause and support. When any nation moves closer to democracy or its populace exerts an effort to become “more perfect” it is cause for celebration. When citizens take action to expose its own nations’ hypocrisy - all the better.

Perhaps this belief is the mix of nature and nurture within me. My grandfather rescued his family and countless others in 1940’s Europe by skillfully squeezing past the suffocating grip of Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. I was born and raised in Massachusetts where details about the heroic efforts of patriots in the American Revolution were weaved into school trips and bicentennial celebrations. In college, I walked along the same Boston streets and stood alongside the shadows of the same historic buildings and landmarks that witnessed the forming of our nation.

While in college, I watched the televised protests in Tiananmen Square, the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, the fall of the Soviet Union and the liberation of former Iron Curtained states. And although this nation has seen its own travesties, it remains the beacon of hope, a model for young republics and the envy of freedom loving people.

In contrast to twenty years ago, the newspapers and cable news organizations of today are comparatively impotent, but the Internet, the greatest and most affordable conduit of ideas civilization has ever seen, has come alive. YouTube, Facebook, Flickr and most notably Twitter have provided instant images and perspective from participants, sympathizers, foes and opportunists alike. At times, feeds of information channels have adopted a mob mentality themselves as revolutions have become participative. Disinformation, panic, fear, lemming-like regurgitation of conflicting stories have been mixed together with bravery, images of compassion, and ever present hope. The naive and the knave, the instigators, the healers, the scholars and the rogues all compete for attention. It is frustratingly difficult to separate the signal from the noise. Yet, if you love the pursuit of freedom, it is also beautiful.

Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” Still, cynics say there is no appreciable difference people sipping cappuccinos or playing on their Wii can have half a world away. That symbols like tinting your profile picture green or other signs of solidarity are equivalent to giving an alcoholic vagrant a dollar. It makes you feel better, clears your soul, but doesn't address the core issue. Maybe. Maybe not. How can you know? Freedom is addictive and any citizen of a free society enjoys seeing more of it. Realism tells us there is nothing we can individually do to affect change. However, realism didn't win the American Revolution. Faith, hope, determination and other intangibles did. So too, do those intangibles work today with every freedom loving movement.

Given our long history, freedom is a relatively new concept to humankind. It is still a fragile thing but it is desirable and we know we achieve greater things when we have it. Whether we broadcast it, or know it quietly in our heart, those who have a taste of freedom will always cheer and help those who are not. And in some incalculable way, make a difference in the process.