May We Live In Interesting Times
Eric Essagof, Staff Writer
June 19, 2012 • 66 views
Filed under Opinions
“May you live in interesting times,” is an old Chinese curse. The idea is that interesting times are filled with disorder and trouble, and that no one would ever want to live in them.
Well, our time in high school was certainly interesting for the world.
In the fall of 2008, we entered high school during a turbulent period. The financial system was starting to collapse, our President had a record-low approval rating, and Americans were uncertain about the future.
We didn’t know whether the economy would improve in time for us to get jobs after college. We didn’t know when the financial system would recover. We didn’t know if we could ever trust our government again.
The situation in the rest of the world was worse. The War on Terror was falling apart. The War in Iraq had no direction and the War in Afghanistan was ignored. Corrupt dictatorships ruled most of the Middle East, and elections held little validity. For decades, the people of these countries just watched as greedy leaders trampled upon their human rights. What could one person do anyway?
Our freshman year was marked by chaos at home and complacency abroad.
But, near the end of the year, something snapped.
In Iran, yet another obviously fraudulent election was the final straw. The people had seen enough. With Twitter and Facebook as their weapons, Iranian men and women took to the streets to voice their outrage. While this protest was ultimately suppressed, it was a major catalyst.
It was a sign of things to come.
There are few things more powerful than an angry populace, and governments across the world had pissed off their people one too many times.
At home, during our sophomore year, we saw the Tea Party protests. Americans had seen too much government spending and too many taxes. Instead of sitting on the couch, they took to the streets. They filled town square, streets and even the National Mall to voice their discontent. They didn’t just protest, either. They organized. Tea Party chapters sprung up across the country, dedicated to throwing out incumbent politicians, both Democrat and Republican. Ordinary people who never had an interest in politics were now using their first amendment rights to exact change in their country.
Politicians who considered their seats safe suddenly saw themselves having to fight lengthy primary battles to keep their seats. Americans in solid blue or red states finally got to exercise some choice.
Our junior year was when the world truly got to see what a revolution looked like. When Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, lit himself on fire in protest, he could not have possibly imagined himself inspiring an entire region to demand freedom. Yet, that is exactly what happened. Using the same tactics the Iranians used just three years ago, Middle Easterners rose up and chanted that they had seen enough.
They had seen enough of the violence and fear that dictatorships bring. They had seen enough of the ignorance of human rights under theocracies. They had seen enough unemployment, depression and hunger.
They had seen enough, and it was time to stop it.
Even when these people were being run over by government vehicles and shot in cold blood by riot police, they never backed down. They tweeted, shouted and demonstrated with their lives on the line. They made the ultimate sacrifice in order to make a better country for their children to live in.
The best part of this is that it worked. Just weeks ago, Egypt held their first free election ever. Egyptians get to rule themselves thanks to their courage to speak their mind.
We got to see this same fervor for free speech at home during our senior year. The financial crisis was bound to inspire a movement at some point, and that movement came in the form of Occupy Wall Street. Inspired by the demonstrations on Tahrir Square, New Yorkers pitched tents in Zuccotti Park, raising awareness about the awful practices of Wall Street and the severe income inequality in this country. The movement quickly spread worldwide, as tents started popping up in Chicago, New Haven, Athens and Rome. Middle class citizens were fed up with the current world order and spoke out for change.
This worked, too. Income inequality is now a major theme in the upcoming election and is something Americans care about for the first time since the Great Depression.
We entered high school during turbulent times, but we leave during exciting times. We entered as cynics, but leave as idealists. In the past four years we have learned that speech is a powerful tool. Bullets and bombs can only oppress people for so long, but words can bring down cruel dictatorships forever and inspire radical change.
A gun can change a life. A voice can change the world.
The Chinese believed that living in “interesting times” was a curse. However, I see it as a blessing. It is out of interesting times that the greatest thinkers, shapers and doers arise. Times of great turbulence and chaos require men and women to speak out and become integral members of society.
So, I say to my fellow graduates, may we continue to live in interesting times so that we can become interesting people.