I recently came to the realization that my life is full of extremes, and those extremes facilitate my work as a writer. This revelation struck while I was sitting in bed on a Saturday night, simultaneously editing an e-learning course on fair housing laws and watching the America’s Cutest Cat countdown on Animal Planet. This brief indulgence in the hilarious and heartwarming antics of curious cats provoked a moment of self-reflection. I was compelled to consider the ways my own curiosity drives me, personally and professionally. Writers are known to be troublemakers, after all — though perhaps this is an unfair casting unless viewed in the right sort of light.
It's rare to see a macroeconomics experiment play out in real time in the way we are seeing it right now in Japan and Europe. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has embarked on aggressive measures to stimulate Japan's long-moribund economy since he took office in December, and the result so far has been strong growth — and, perhaps, liftoff after a triple-dip recession. Europe, on the other hand, remains mired in the muck of austerity and economic contraction.
For the sake of this country's multiethnic democracy, I want Republicans to do better among nonwhite voters. A society where ethnicity defines the political parties is doomed to disaster. The political process becomes a zero-sum game where each ethnic group fights for its share of the pie. Any commitment to a broader common good is lost, as is any sense that citizens of different backgrounds can come together and feel a strong patriotic bond.
What does it feel like to go insane and not know why? In her memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, author Susannah Cahalan describes what it is like in terrifying detail: “My body continued to stiffen as I inhaled repeatedly, with no exhale. Blood and foam began to spurt out of my mouth through clenched teeth.… This moment, my first serious blackout, marked the line between sanity and insanity. Though I would have moments of lucidity over the coming weeks, I would never again be the same person. This was the start of the dark period of my illness, as I began an existence in purgatory between the real world and a cloudy, fictitious realm made up of hallucinations and paranoia.”
After protracted, months-long negotiations, Kosovo and Serbia recently agreed to a compromise on sovereignty and autonomy that would end two decades of conflict. In extinguishing the last embers of war in what was Yugoslavia — the volatile, ethnically divided nation where the assassination of an Austrian archduke launched World War I, and where civil war throughout the nineties led to ethnic cleansing and other atrocities — Europe is nearing the end of its long journey to overcome its tribal enmities and build a cohesive, peaceful civilization.
These hopeful developments overseas have been on my mind recently. This semester, I've been teaching a course on the debate within the West over human nature: What are we? What can we be? Why do we act the way we do?
Prejudice can kill. George Zimmerman saw a young black male wearing a hoodie, and made a decision that reflected the dictionary definition of prejudice — a "preconceived judgment or opinion … An adverse opinion or leaning formed without just grounds or before sufficient knowledge." Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch coordinator of a gated community in Sanford, Florida, didn't know Trayvon Martin, the teenager he followed. Martin didn't do anything specific that would have been suspicious to an unprejudiced observer. He was unarmed and gave no indication that he harbored criminal intent of any kind. Zimmerman simply prejudged him. And it cost Martin — a seventeen-year-old out to buy some Skittles — his life.
Prejudice killed Trayvon Martin. But there are other, less obvious forms of prejudice, ones that even those of us who would rightly condemn a man like Zimmerman might be tempted to practice and justify.
Rather than taking his crimes with him to the grave, Elwin Wilson repented. Rather than indulge the impulse for vengeance, John Lewis forgave. We could all learn from their example.
"I love you," I told my mother quietly, as she stared at me blankly. "I will miss you."
Talk of climate change seems to be everywhere these days. From elected officials in Washington, DC, to the farmers of rural India, people hold wildly divergent opinions about the ways climate change is affecting our lives, and the impact it will have in the future. In spite of widespread disagreement, many people are already seeing the consequences of climate change in the form of more storms, less rainfall, and severe flooding in their countries. Although the slower-onset disasters may be imperceptible to some, the rising sea levels, higher global temperatures, and food shortages are being endured by many.
I discovered I had bibliophilic tendencies when I was a child, and though I'd like to attribute this trait to precocious proclivities, it was more likely the personal pan pizza BOOK IT!® awards my elementary school gave out for reading. I grew up on a household where fast food was a luxury my single mother could not afford. So, in order to earn a dinnertime treat for my sisters and me, I would obsessively read.
Feeling connected to my country and to all its citizens is consistent with my progressive beliefs, in particular because Americanness can be — even though it hasn’t always been — an inclusive form of national identity. Americanness can offer a model whereby people of every imaginable background see themselves as part of a single community, a model that stands in powerful contrast to fundamentalism and hate. That's the kind of identity that builds bridges rather than walls. And that’s the kind of America I can wholeheartedly love.