I have lived in the USA twice in my life and, like many Canadians, I have many friends and relatives there. Like many Canadians, I appreciate Americans and, despite obvious setbacks and flaws, I have a great respect for the values of freedom and justice that America and its allies have represented in our world.
And so I am, along with many American friends and many others in many countries around the world, worried about what the next four years will bring – specifically for that great country but also for so many of us elsewhere.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
As an academic and a scientist I believe that ideas propagated in truth and then spoken with conviction make a difference in the world. It may become tempting to use the strategies of untruth against those who propagate untruth. But that would be extremely unwise because:
“…science and reason matter…” (Barak Obama, presidential farewell address)
“The good thing about science: it’s true whether or not you believe in it.” (Neil deGrasse Tyson)
“Men argue. Nature acts.” (Voltaire)
“I am not presumptuous enough to tell reality what it should be.” (Alexander Vilenkin)
A great American poet, W.S. Merwin, said:
…one can’t live only in despair and anger without eventually destroying the thing one is angry in defense of. The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.
How to avoid despair and anger? Walt Whitman – quintessential American Poet, provides an answer:
Long, too long America,
Traveling roads all even and peaceful you learn’d from joys and prosperity only,
But now, ah now, to learn from crises of anguish, advancing, grappling with direst fate and recoiling not,
And now to conceive and show to the world what your children en-masse really are,
(For who except myself has yet conceiv’d what your children en-masse really are?)
America, do not recoil
Those of us in the scientific community, do not recoil.
Those in any walk of life who love truth, do not recoil.
The peaceful roads are splendid in all of their warm sun and scenery. But the harder roads of crisis provide opportunities to show the world that truth matters. It’s always more difficult to climb a long set of gravel switchbacks to an unparalleled summit vista than it is to drive a straight road through rolling meadows to nowhere in particular.
Working toward truth is difficult, essential, and well worth the effort. And the effort will crowd out anger and despair.
Read Whitman’s poem again on Friday – and again and again and again. Let’s continue to work for truth. The vista is there, even if we can’t see the peak from where we are now.