“Looking in the mirror thinking I can’t believe what I’ve become. Swore I was gonna be someone. And growing up everyone always does. We sell our dreams and our potential, to escape through that buzz. Just keep me up, keep me up.”
Yesterday I got the opportunity to visit Tivoli with my festival friends. I was excited to get out of Rome and spend some time in a different area of Italy, one that is a little less tourist-centric and crazy. I was not disappointed. Tivoli was beautiful—the parts of it that I saw were thick with waterfalls, beautiful caves, amazing scenery, and green. So much green trees starkly contrasting with the beautiful blue sky. The power of the waterfalls overwhelmed me throughout the day as I realize that these caves, these hills, these valleys were all a result of the waterfall. The beautiful Sirens Grotto was a result of a devastating flood way back in the day. As I’m sitting there enjoying the view and thinking about life I read the sign and it tells me that, that the flood was a hugely damaging moment in history and it makes me wonder how something so beautiful and good can be the result of something so awful and bad.
A constant trickle of water from a waterfall, from a faucet, from a stream, has the power—when combined with time—to completely alter the landscape around it. Something so small with the patience and stubbornness to keep existing will change the way the world looks around you. Sometimes this happens and results in beauty, like the grottos and waterfalls at Tivoli, but other times it results in ugliness and decay.
This makes me think about the clichéd concept introduced by Ms. Niemi in my Advanced Placement Language course in high school: man’s inhumanity to man. I often ask myself how people can continue to live and treat others in the ways they do, whether it’s racism, gender bias, homophobia, or simply close-mindedness and a lack of empathy. How can these people not see that those they judge are people too, that just because someone is gay does not make them a lesser being. It happens everywhere, on the global stage of cultural genocide, the national stage of homophobic marriage laws, and on the personal stage of judgment and stereotyped treatment of strangers. And yet why, why does this have to happen?
Because that’s the way it is and that’s the way it always has happened.
That’s always what I hear. “Things like this just happen when you get a group of people together,” or “Yeah, that’ll happen you just have to ignore it,” or whatever weak excuse blaming something external for a personal bias and the unwillingness to take responsibility for your actions.
If we keep telling ourselves that it’s okay to treat each other like this, that it is okay to clique up and bash each other simply because that is what always happens, then it will never stop and we will never change! Don’t tell me that I’m naïve, that I just want everyone to like me, that I don’t understand how people work. I am very aware of how people “work,” one does not bartend for as long as I have without learning about people. One does not sit and watch as much as I have in different settings, comparing the actions of people at the bar, in the pool hall, and at the casino to the people in college, the professors, and the musicians on stage, without drawing connections and learning more about people in general.
The lame excuse of letting things continue to happen because they always have is not good enough for me anymore. We are killing the world with our pollution, we are killing each other with our close-mindedness and lack of empathy, and we are killing our selves by blaming everyone else instead of taking responsibility for our prejudices and preconceptions. We fear that which we don’t understand and in order to avoid that uneasiness at the unknown we simply place everyone into neat little boxes in our minds. It’s a mechanism of self-defense. Nobody wants to admit that it is fear that drives their actions, but I think that is a big part of it. We are afraid of that which we don’t know, we don’t understand something and it makes us angry because it shows us our weakness. Lack of comprehension means that we don’t know everything, and not knowing everything is terrifying for some people because if you admit that you don’t know something you can easily begin to question the things that you think you already know. Descartes started this struggle as he tried to find his one clear and distinct perception. We fear that a slippery slope of doubt and despair will result when we begin to question ourselves, so instead we pretend to know things we don’t for the safety and comfort it brings us.
But it does not need to be that way. We can change the way we approach each other. We can alter our excuses and take responsibility for our actions. We can teach our children to do the same, or our friends, or even our friend’s children. We can be kind to strangers and open to new ideas. We can quit being so self-centered and let others live their own lives. We can learn to work together, even if we don’t like each other. We can put a tiny pebble at the beginning of the river and let the new trickle form a completely different waterfall.
We can slow down our lives and open up our minds. We can find creative solutions to our problems. We can change the world.