Hope in a silent time

By Timothy Den Herder-Thomas

Last Friday, I was sitting in a discussion circle for the Leadership Conference, talking about the conversations we never have at Macalester. One friend said he never felt comfortable expressing his opinions, because he couldn’t trust that they’d be accepted. I fear we fear speaking openly. So I will.I believe I must speak openly, and I challenge you to respond openly. I am proactive about my trust-I will assume it of you, and if it is not there, maybe the act will create it.

I believe we are here at Mac to reforge ourselves in the image of the life and the world we believe in, and in doing so, shape the world around us. I create, and study, and live the process of rebuilding society around a sustainable future, and take boundless energy from the process. In class on Monday, a close friend said something about building sustainable societies that struck me: “it’s fun because we’re re-learning how to live.”

I am tired of “passive activists” as I recently heard it put. I am tired of service out of moralism, and a life so disconnected that one needs to “give back.” I am tired of the endless assumption that the change-maker amasses voices to demand change from the powerful, instead of shaping a system of power that includes us all. I am tired of watching people wait for group approval before they feel empowered to do anything. I am tired of the lack of faith we give to our own abilities. I am tired of PC-culture where we will not say what we actually think.

I do not understand homosexuality, and I take ownership of saying that. I don’t understand it ecologically, evolutionarily, culturally, or physically-I can’t promise I ever will. I have many close friends who are gay, and the fact I can’t understand it doesn’t bother me. Listen to what I say before you judge.

Why do we decide who’s at fault before taking ownership? Is the safe space problem created by white students not feeling comfortable with interacting with students of color, or because minority students self-segregate into safe spaces? What if we asked who has responsibility for the solution rather than who causes the problem? We can all build trust and no one from the Board of Trustees to yours truly can change it alone. Do we each wait until someone else is ready to move?

Should we leave Iraq or not? I live for peace, and the answer is not at all clear for me-it seems like the wrong question. If we stay, there is war. If we leave, there will be war (possibly worse). It will continue to erupt as long as the Middle East is the crown jewel of every superpower’s national energy security to be managed over the heads of a frustrated Arab society. The question is how we create conditions of peace: a challenge both far more cosmic and far more possible. You and I can build a locally-based economy independent from the need to control resources half-way around the world. We’re actually already starting, and the long road ahead must include us all.

Should I continue? A friend on the Institute for Global Citizenship Student Council says “global citizenship is supposed to be grassroots anyway . that’s the paradox.” Another says that the Institute is an elitist institution meant to reinforce privilege. Is the Institute good or bad? Wrong question. What will global citizenship become through you? Which type do you believe in? As citizens of an interconnected planet, we can make conscious choices about our role in the world or we can blunder around unconsciously changing untold lives through the network of ecological, economic, political, and social systems we live in. It’s your choice.

If we do not think we can solve challenges of this depth, we are saying we believe them unsolvable. Remember, this is Macalester, so that is a fatal statement for the future of our world. I act in the context of a warming Earth, so I am very serious and very literal when I say that.

I speak through faith that we really want to believe that these things are possible. I speak through faith that we want to mean what we say and take responsibility-which a friend calls, “the ability to respond.”

Timothy DenHerder-Thomas ’09 can be contacted at
[email protected]