People Are Good, But We Can Do Better

After a pretty rough week in terms of current events last week, wouldn’t it be nice to have full confidence and trust in other people to help make the world a better place?

Lately, there seems to be a growing distrust of others, especially those who are unlike us, and that’s not a world I’m comfortable living in, because it goes against our human nature.
Here’s the thing: all people are born good, so it’s our natural state of being.
The fact that we’re all inherently good is the reason we’re at the top of the food chain: we’ve come together as a species to build a system of trust and a society, and the only way we could conceivably do this is by working together. Humans are better when we have strong social ties, since teamwork is the evolutionary trait that has allowed us to rule the planet.
The way I’ve been seeing people treat one another is getting away from that and it worries me.

Once we’re born, our culture, loved ones, and education condition us and we start to lose our innate tendency to help others in lieu of developing behaviors centered around how right and righteous we are, while proving wrong those who don’t believe and act the same as us.
I want to live in a world where we focus on helping each other build better people and communities, but that’s tough to do when we’re distracted by the forces dividing us.

How do we build that world?
What if learning to work together was a part of our childhood conditioning?
I don’t mean sharing blocks and not pulling each other’s hair in preschool, I mean learning how to come together, no matter our backgrounds or if we even agree with one another, and fix problems with a focus on how each of us can help.
What if school curriculum was centered around learning about one another, learning how to communicate and have empathy, and learning how to best combine our backgrounds, skills, and knowledge to create something? What if, instead of ranking students based off of scores representing their own individual knowledge, we develop a system where the goal is for students to come together to make each other better in pursuit of a goal, say a class project, a community service, or just helping one another score better? If this was part of our upbringing – how we were conditioned – how would we, as adults, behave differently when we come across someone who isn’t like us? Would we be resistant and fearful, or excited and hopeful?
If we’re conditioned to want to help each other be better, how different would the news look? Would they be focused on human progress or the events tearing us apart?

The world I want to live in is one where people come together to understand one another so that we can learn to build better communities.
My question to you: how can you help make this world a reality?

Play Chess or Die!: A Parallel Between High School Extracurricular and Secular Extremism

“Play Chess or Die!” The message rang loud and clear over the TV morning announcements at West View High School. The school’s chess club, known as Checkmate, had taken another hostage. This time, it was Craig Townsend, a reporter from the school’s newspaper, The View of West View. He was reporting on the boy’s tennis team moving their after-school meeting to room 206 the previous night, when members of Checkmate nabbed him. With the swipe of a sword, Craig became just another victim in the name of the Queen. Checkmate’s demands are simple: more funds for new chess boards, the freedom to meet in any room they want without staff approval, and for everyone in the school to renounce all other extracurriculars to play chess. Their tactics are barbaric: hostage executions, bombings, and mass shootings, the most recent of which really put a damper on student morale, even amidst an 8-1 football season.

Through the 40 years of the school’s existence, this narrative has repeated itself over and over. Checkmate is sick of the fact that all of the other extracurricular clubs and organizations don’t play chess all the time, so they use guerilla tactics with the intention of terrorizing the other students into playing chess. Yes, some people have joined, but most of them have joined out of fear rather than because of genuine enthusiasm in chess. Junior Jeremy Kellenson joined when Checkmate sent him a grainy video threatening to capture and behead his brother. Even though he may be part of the club and playing chess, he doesn’t exactly look forward to going to the meetings.

Checkmate interprets the rules of chess to be symbolic: you can only win a match by eliminating the other player’s pieces or by forcing them into submission. This means that total extracurricular dominance can be achieved either by murdering anyone who isn’t part of chess club, or by forcing them to join. However, it seems as though the murder aspect is deterring people, so meeting attendance is declining. …actually, that might have more to do with all of the suicide bombing… The club believes that if they kill the tuba section of the marching band, it will scare the trombone section into joining. We can only hope Student Council rallies the other clubs to do something about preventing further tragedy…

Would you rather have your kids get excited about playing soccer and want to do it on their own, or would you prefer to drag them, kicking and screaming, into the minivan? When you propose, would you rather your girlfriend say “Yes!” emphatically with tears of joy streaming down her face, or would you prefer if she says “Yes,” because her father made an arrangement with your father about land acquisition? Would you, as president of chess club, rather have people join because the meetings are so much fun and people genuinely want to join, or would you rather capture and decapitate a school newspaper reporter to scare people into joining? As a student who isn’t part of Checkmate, does the prospect of joining excite you when you’re threatened with murder?

The call to action here is simple: if you want others to believe what you believe, show them why it’ll benefit them. Don’t mortar their cheerleading practice. Trying to force them will only cause resentment and you won’t have converted anyone authentically. We can’t control the thoughts or actions of others, but we can control our thoughts and actions around others. This is why the tactics of extremist organizations, American military force in the Middle East, disruptive protests, or telling your friends that they’re idiots for not watching Game of Thrones will never work – you’re not inspiring anyone. The power of inspiration is much more effective than persuasion because we’re driven from within instead of from an external source. If the leaders of Checkmate are killed and the chess extremists are destroyed, are people like Jeremy Kellenson going to remain members? Of course not! External motivation is temporary, and when it goes away, so does our motivation. Following the recent terrorist attacks around the world, we have an opportunity; not to use force to convince others of our beliefs, but to inspire people to believe differently by showing them love.

We all have beliefs and they guide all of our actions. Without beliefs, we wouldn’t have our identities, so when someone else tries to force us into believing or doing something we wouldn’t normally believe or do, our identities fight back. It’s natural. I don’t have an exact solution, but if we were to view extremist violence from a different light, it may be the catalyst we need to get a different result. No problems will ever be permanently solved with a “My way or the highway” approach, but by using a different approach like love, we can interrupt the routine of violent coercion and inspire those with hurtful intentions by showing them the benefits of love, peace, and togetherness. Every human being has a need to be loved, appreciated, and made to feel important in the world. When we lead by example and show that these things can be accomplished without violence, others will respond in kind. This is the law of our subconscious minds and the universe. When we force others to agree that we’re always right; we’ll always be wrong. When we can inspire others to see things from our perspective by acting as a shining example, we can change the world. Every conflict serves as an opportunity to grow ourselves and inspire others to do the same. Using this perspective, chess club can now grow their membership through genuine inspiration to join, and actually have engaged members, rather than members who fear for their lives. If we can inspire others to consider our beliefs instead of forcing them, that is a true checkmate. (I had to)