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June 30, 2008 / calebdresser

For Daniel

There are times when I simply have to hear normal English, and so I found myself spending my day off in the little music store in Pallavpuram pawing through its eclectic selection of Hollywood films. I finally settled on Lions for Lambs, partly because it had Robert Redford but mostly because it looked exciting and I hadn’t seen it. Well, I still haven’t seen the last thirty-five minutes thanks to shoddy manufacturing practices that produced a squeaking plaid checkerboard on my screen instead of a movie, but what I did see was thought-provoking. To quote the defective VCD’s packaging, it “explores the consequences of taking a stand” and what happens when people get off their seats to do what they feel is right. Though none of the ideas in the film were new to me per se, hearing them presented at this juncture in my life made it a highly meaningful three-quarters of a movie. I’ve done a fair amount of thinking on what is important during my meanderings, and perhaps watching that movie at this time made me want to write about it.


We Americans live in a culture that is incredibly self-centered and pleasure-oriented, yet I look around at the people I know and I see a tremendous willingness to step up and do what you believe needs doing. You are not common people. It is an honor to count you as my friends, my family. Campaigning and organizing for the environment, for justice, for policies and people you support. Teaching, in inner cities and gardens and all manner of other places. Attending antiwar rallies. In the Marines, combat infantry. Working with the needy, the disabled, the unwell. Putting yourselves in new and difficult situations, be they in rural Africa or the school three minutes from home. Donating money. Sitting at lab benches and in dusty four-wheel drives trying to understand problems and their solutions. Managing nonprofits. Volunteering for all manner of causes. One of you, a dear friend from a well-off family, has like many of you chosen to take a risk and be part of something bigger than himself. I lift a few lines from a letter I wrote to him a month ago in the Philippines:


…much as parents will have their qualms, I will say this: Army Special Forces is one of the finest things a person can do these days. Having spent as much of my life as I have with you, I have complete faith in your ability to meet the physical, emotional, intellectual, and ethical challenges that lie ahead.  You are definitely not wasting your college education, either – you are probably putting it to better use than many of our peers who will spend their lives in small-minded pursuit of the bigger buck and the shinier car. In the next few decades the need for people who can act with force when needed, but who also have access to intellect, to finesse, and to restraint, will be enormous… 


That is his path and it is a good one; I also know and deeply respect many who have done all they can to oppose and end the current wars. These differences are not what I am interested in here;  the greatest difference I see is not between soldier and peace activist but between these and the person who does nothing. I do not expect that everyone reading this supports my friend’s decision, but I do ask that before you raise your eyebrows too high, you ask yourself what you have done to stand up for your beliefs that can match such dedication. I am not suggesting that everyone must devote their life to a cause. I ask only that you think a little on what you  can do with the gifts you have received to influence something, anything, that matters in your eyes. If you are reading these words on your computer, it means you have drunk deep at the wells of knowledge, comfort, and success in comparison to most people in most places. The water is cool and sweet, but the land beyond the well is in many places parched and dry. Surely you have the courage to lift your head for a moment and sprinkle at least a few drops on the thirsty earth outside the shade of your oasis?


Many of you are already doing a tremendous amount to stand up, give back, and be part of a larger reality outside the confines of your personal affairs. I have learned a great deal about meaningful action from you, knowledge I carry close to my heart here on the plains of India. I count myself lucky to be a part of your lives and be shaped by them, whether or not I see eye-to-eye with you on everything. Our differences keep our thinking sharp and our actions sound. For those who feel too powerless or busy to act on their beliefs, even the smallest action is still something. I close with a portion of Lions for Lambs that I did get to see.


“Licking envelopes is putting yourself on the line?”


“Infinitely more so than just talking.”


One Comment

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  1. Joel / Jul 1 2008 4:59 pm

    “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

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