If not now, when?: A call to honor Macalester ideals

By Maliq Muro

Many well-read students will recognize the title of my piece as an important part of Zen teachings. However, not as many will come close to understanding the wisdom encapsulated in this question. It is a profound question that has the potential to be life changing, if we give it a minute or two of contemplation.I speak of the present, the here, the now. I agree with Timothy den Herder-Thomas’ message in the article he wrote recently, “Hope in a silent time” (11/16/2007). There has to be a tangible and sustainable change in the way we think and do things on campus. I speak of a change that will move us from half-baked “global citizens” into the men and women we portrayed ourselves to be in those carefully crafted essays we wrote to get accepted into colleges like Macalester. I speak of an end to the half-hearted and sub-par commitments we make to the values that Macalester represents.

It may seem like I ask for the impossible, but if we do not aim that high, who will? What is the point of coming together in an idealistic environment like Macalester if not to act and embody positive change on a magnitude that will motivate the rest of the world to follow suit? To borrow from Timothy’s article, it is time to let go of “passive activism” and embrace active and dynamic change.

It has been said that the potential for success is magnified when people stand together. However, the opposite is also very true. Our definition of normal becomes mediocre when one is surrounded by enough friends who accept lukewarm success, thereby letting it become the status quo. It becomes acceptable to sign up for many a cause but put miniscule effort in supporting them. It becomes fine to speak out against racism, ethnic cleansing, genocide-take your pick-but at the same time, poke and make fun of a ground breaking project like the Institute for Global Citizenship which stands to create the type of citizens who can address the aforementioned problems. It becomes acceptable to make pro-feminist speeches about general issues related to inequalities faced by women, but there is a taboo against much needed campus wide discourse about a specific reality like rape at Macalester.

It becomes fine to pretend to pledge oneself to internationalism and multiculturalism, two of the four pillars Macalester stands upon, but only until one steps into the cafeteria and makes conscious decisions contrary to these ideals about whom to sit with. It becomes the fashion to state how we believe in civic engagement and academic excellence, the other two pillars of Macalester, but only up to the point when the following questions are posed: Which civic engagement organization are you an active part of? Are you making the most out of your academic opportunities at Macalester?

It will not do to continue living like this if we are to be the force for change.

Before we even start contemplating a change of this magnitude in the way we think and do things on a campus wide level, I ask you to have the courage to pause for a minute and question your own lifestyle. That means letting go of your friends for a moment and taking stock of where you stand as you read this.

Are you the man or woman that you so eloquently wrote about in those applications? Can you stand in front of a mirror, look yourself in the eye and tell yourself that you are doing the best you can to make a positive change in the world today?

I pose these questions to bring to the forefront a fundamental truth I believe we have come to neglect: All we have is the now. Ours is not the luxury of putting all our eggs in the basket of the tomorrow that never comes; let the procrastinating leaders who have failed us in crises like Darfur do that. Ours is not the luxury of lugging around weight that belongs to the past; leave that sickness to the vengeful and shortsighted murderers that give legitimacy to words like “terrorism” and “revenge.” This is not what we pledged to become when Macalester accepted us, and more importantly, when we chose to embrace Macalester and its ideals. It is imperative that we realize this before we think of attempting to create significant change on a wider scale.

We are here to create what I would like to refer to as the “cheetah” generation. As the name suggests, I speak of a generation of dynamic and proactive young minds ready to throw themselves into solving the world’s problems, be they civil wars, global warming or hunger. I speak of leaders who recognize that it is the life we live in the present moment which influences the past we will remember, and the future we can look forward to.

Let us use the past for a reference point to avoid repeating the same mistakes over and over again, and create the future that we owe the world as the privileged of this world. Let us use Macalester as the launch pad for the much-needed change that it was built to be. Let us live fully conscious and active in the now, for it is only through it that we can change anything, including the way people around us think and do things. Let us stop failing Macalester, and begin honoring the ideals to which we, as the students who make it exist, pledged ourselves.

Maliq Muro ’10 can be reached at [email protected]