On Incivility, Injustice, Immaturity, Immediacy, Insanity and On Hope For the Future

The Rotary Club of Pismo Beach / Five Cites
Kyle Berlin, Third Place
Grade 10, Arroyo Grande High School
Teacher:  Mrs. Derbidge

In times of hardship, it can be easy to lose sight of what is at stake. Too often, we are swept up in the gales of immediacy, in the battle at hand, in the positivity of self-righteousness. In the midst of an epoch-making economic and political crisis of global proportions it is easy to fling blame or denigrate supposed enemies, but not so easy to accept responsibility and address the problems at hand. From Libya to Egypt to Japan to our own backyards, the world is racked by discomfort and upheaval. The jobless rate is still soaring. The budget has yet to be balanced–anywhere. Despots are falling. Radiation is leaking. The earth is shaking in more ways than one. In the midst of all of this our leaders–and ourselves–cannot seem to get anything done. We have lost sight of the ultimate goal; we have forgotten that we all have the same goal. In an increasingly polarized nation and world, blatant mistruths are thrown about like nothing, fairness is disregarded constantly, good will seems nonexistent, and—most importantly–none of this is beneficial to anyone. Which is exactly why we must demand of our leaders and ourselves that we check all of these elements before thinking, saying, or doing anything: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned? The Rotary Four-Way Test is the ultimate tool to bring at least a bit of harmony to a discordant planet.

51%. That’s the amount of Republicans who still believe that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen, despite numerous examples otherwise. 2.3 trillion. That’s the number of dollars that President Obama was off in his latest budget estimate. 8,000. That’s the number of people killed in the earthquake in Japan. 30 million. That’s the number of people without jobs in the U.S. What these facts reveal is that our world is still in a horrible state of disrepair, yet we continue to spew mistruths instead of facing the actual issues at hand. Really, we are more focused on the citizenship of our president than his actual politics’? Really, we continue to do fuzzy math rather than make difficult cuts or make difficult income tax raises? It is time that we put into use the first rule: the truth. The real, hard truth. Instead of hiding behind misinformation, we must address the actual issues at hand– truthfully. Only once we, the people, demand nothing less than the truth will it permeate our society and only then will we finally be able to act responsibly, maturely, and efficiently to create a better, more just world.

Which brings us to the next question in the Test: Is it fair? This is invariably linked to the first question; something that is not truthful is certainly not fair to all concerned. Case in point: Merriam Webster defines fair as, “marked by impartiality or honesty”. Thus, if our society and its leaders were more honest, they would be inherently more fair. Obviously, Hitler’s crusades against the Jews and others were both founded on lies and horribly unfair. The same goes for racial discrimination or the Rwandan genocide or any one of the all-too-many atrocities that humanity has committed. However, there is a distinction between truth and fairness which makes the second question so vital to the success of the Test. For example, even if Hitler’s lies about the Jewish people’s supposed filth were true, that does not mean that mass extermination would be fair. I would like to disagree with Merriam Webster, or at least expand on their definition: fairness does not just mean impartiality, for if we believed Hitler’s lies we could theoretically “impartially” punish the Jews for their “errors.” Rather, fairness is something much more human; it lies in the “unalienable rights” that our forefathers spoke of, the rights that each one of us–no matter how twisted or lost–possess: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Something that violates these rights–something like the extermination of fellow humans or, on a much smaller scale, spreading lies to the people–is inherently unfair. And the second question of the Test checks this.

Nowadays, it seems that no one can get along all that well. Goodwill and friendships between our leaders seem almost nonexistent. It is hard to go through a day without hearing of the latest chunk of mud that has been flung across the aisle. So let us look at the harsh rhetoric in today’s political arena. Our politicians often spread information that is not only untruthful, as discussed in the dialogue about the first question of the Test, but also extremely hurtful. Rather than actually addressing legitimate issues of our country–and, believe me, there are many–they often take the easy way out and attack the character of their political opponents. Too often, it seems almost like they disagree not because they really oppose the proposed action, but because that action was proposed by the other party. Rather than being a house bent on doing the best for the American people, Congress commonly seems like a daycare center where the kids are wildly yelling and punching at each other, oblivious to the shocked world around them. This immature and brutal political rhetoric is not only ineffective but also extremely detrimental. Just look at the tragedy in Tucson, widely acknowledged to be assisted by the warlike dialogue in our nation. There is no reason for our political leaders–our political leaders who are adults–to be so abusive of each other – no goodwill will be built, no friendships will be strengthened, nothing will be gained and I would like to believe that the American voters are mature enough to recognize this, and demand that their leaders ask themselves the third question of the Test.
Finally, and most importantly, there is the fourth question: Will it be beneficial to all concerned? They key to this question lies in the “all concerned”; I am sure that everyone assures that it is beneficial to themselves before thinking, speaking, or acting, but last time I checked, there were almost 7 billion people in the world, not just one. If we all acted solely for our own benefit, it would suffice to say that the world would be even uglier than it is now. In fact, in the long run, it would actually benefit each person greater if they were to check themselves with the fourth question. After all, a wholly selfish world in complete disarray would be good for no one. If our world would be completely ruined if no one asked themselves the last question, and everyone acted solely for themselves, it is only logical that a world in which everyone asks themselves this question would be close to perfect. Although cynics may guffaw at this utopian ideal and may ask “How?”, I would like to ask, “Why not?” It would be better for the individual (so even the selfish would be pleased) and better for the planet. Why not?

Now, I would like you to imagine yourself here, maybe 30, 40 years in the future. Imagine a small child skipping around. She comes up to you. She asks, “Excuse me, Mr., Ms., I have a question.” You nod encouragingly. She looks at you quizzically and questions “Is it true that humans used to try to kill each other all the time? Is it true that you lived in constant fear of attack? How could it be so?” She continues, “Is it true that people used to not have enough to eat or drink or a home to live in? How could it be so? Is it true that people in the same country used to yell at each other and make up lies about each other and never agree on anything? How could it be so?” Now imagine yourself becoming quiet because you remember those dark days. You think, how could it be so? And then imagine yourself smiling and answering her and telling her why it changed for the better. You start by explaining Rotary and the first question…

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