What Will Characterize America in 2013?

On Tuesdays and Thursdays YOUR VOICE features political commentary from students and young professionals. 

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity. – Dr. Martin Luther King Junior

As we enter into 2013, I reflect upon the year we are leaving behind. I reflect upon the excitement I felt when it was announced that the nation’s first African-American president would be re-elected for a second term. I think of NYPD Officer Larry DePrimo and how his simple act of purchasing boots for a man on the street warmed the hearts of millions in this country. I remember the glimmer of hope I saw when millions of Americans came together to aid the victims of Hurricane Sandy. I reflect on the countless stories that showed the hope of America.

Yet amidst these stories of hope I lamentably must also reflect on realities of division, declines, lack of opportunity, hatred and pain that affected (and continues to affect) our country.

This past year, more than any other in my life, I saw stark division along party lines accompanied by an unwillingness to compromise that led to financial scares, political inefficiency, and many in the country losing hope in the political system. This division has forced me to think about how our youth and children will be affected in the future. And analysis has shown that we are not adequately preparing the next generation for the problems they will face. Despite being a world super-power, the mediocrity of our country’s education system is failing our children.

But nothing caused me to stop and reflect more this past year than the tragic loss of innocent lives in Aurora, Colorado and more recently in Newtown, Connecticut. Perhaps the saddest part of these realities is that they are merely a handful of lamentable situations this country could, and should, reflect upon. Thus amidst the hope and prosperity brought on by 2012, the year also presented an America defined by division, decline and tragedy.

“What Will Characterize America in 2013?”

As a country it is far past time that we wake up. Mentalities of individualism and entitlement are blinding us from what is important. Why were fiscal cliff negotiations so bitterly partisan, to the point where we narrowly missed going over the edge? Why do we need to compare our nation to other countries to begin to examine our educational system? In math, for example, American students only ranked 25th out of 34 countries in the study.Most tragically, why does it need to take the loss of innocent men, women and children to talk about gun violence and mental health in this country? Are we so blinded by the American Dream of self-progress that we can’t see what is happening right in front of us?

In 2013, what will characterize America?

As we move forward in this New Year it is absolutely imperative for us to come together as a country and ask what has characterized us in the past, and contemplate that question for the future. We cannot continue to be characterized by a divided government known more for unwillingness to compromise than for effective change or as a country whose only motivation for progress is competition. Nor can we continue to be characterized as a community who only comes together when disaster strikes but dissolves when the event is no longer covered by the media.

It is time that we no longer think as individuals who participate in a community based solely on what will give us the best return. Rather we must evolve our individualist mentalities of “I” towards a communitarian model of “We.” We must make decisions with our voting, activism and involvement which aren’t based on our entitled conceptions of self, but rather on what is right and good for all of us as a country. We decide on our future and we have the power to change. It’s our responsibility to “rise above the confines of [our] individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity”- especially those within our own borders.

So again I ask, in 2013, what will characterize America?

Mahatma Ghandi is well known for saying “Be the change you want to see in the world.” His call is one of realization followed by action. As young adults, we must realize that we are part of the community that surrounds us, that we have influence, and that we are capable of bringing positive change to this world.

I see division. If I want unity I must seek compromise and mutual edification in the dialogues I have irrespective of who they’re with. I see education motivated by competition. If I want individuals to study for the intrinsic value of learning, then my own educational pursuits must be motivated by a thirst for knowledge and nothing else. I see lack of opportunity. If I want to see equality I must use my studies to synthesize and promote novel suggestions that can alleviate present inequality. I see a lack of critical conversation on issues that aren’t spoken of until it’s too late. If I want to see dialogue and awareness, I must educate myself and others on the complex problems that this country has faced, is facing and could possibly face in the future lest something changes.

I need to be the change I want to see and that begins by humbly using the skills I have been blessed with to actively engage the communities that surround me: my school, neighborhood, town, country and even the world. I need to think of the progress of these communities before I think of my own. I need to put aside my individualist concerns and think about “us”.
What would happen if we all did that?

I think it would change the characterization of America.

-Jorge Juan Rodriguez V ’14 is a Clarendon Scholar at Gordon College with a major in biblical studies and a minor in Christian social thought.