Don’t Tell Us to Just Calm Down

by Cooper Young

I have a rather odd mixture of influences, politically speaking. I grew up on a military base overseas, and I spent four years in college studying English. My Facebook news feed frequently has posts both from people supporting and people denouncing the same issue. One friend from high school likes to post comics mocking Occupy Wall Street; a friend from college posts pictures of himself at protests. These people are my friends, my family, my classmates, and my artistic contemporaries. I do what I can to respect them all.

Specifically, I ignore them all equally. This has worked well for me so far.

The only thing that gets my blood up is when talk turns counterproductive. It comes in a lot of forms (this is only one), all of which piss me off. We can disagree, but so long as we do so in a way which is polite, informed, and—perhaps most importantly—innovative, we are still moving forward. Such movement is often slow, but it’s the only way anything moves at all.

What destroys productive debate is taking the stance—on any issue, mind you—that other people had or have it worse, and so we should be thankful and stop complaining about whatever side of the issue we’re wound up over. The first two-thirds of that statement are true: we, as members of the first world, do have it better than both our predecessors and the vast majority of our contemporaries, and we should be thankful for the blessings, luck, and/or hard work which bestowed such fortune upon us. We should not, however, stop complaining.

Not for an instant.

Not for any reason.

Nothing gets better if no one is angry about the status quo. If we complain that our own situation should be better, at the very least we request a net gain for humanity. If we complain for the sake of our children, we might secure progress.

As for those who have it worse, the answer is not to stop protesting for our own sake, but to protest for them as well. Their misfortune should not inspire silence but shouting; the mistreated of this world continue to be abused because they cannot complain. Those treated worst are those who have no voice at all: the refugee, the disenfranchised, the owned. Their only voices are ours.

Should we stop campaigning for our own good? No. A net gain of justice in this world cannot do harm. We should set the bar as high as possible—higher than we know we can reach—so that when we fail, we fail with greater success. You jump higher trying for something out of reach. Thus the bar—of justice, not of wealth or standard of living or even happiness—must be continually set higher to shame those who don’t reach it into trying harder.

While a larger perspective is both important and enlightening, it often inspires complacency. We start to think that compared to, well, everything everywhere, we’re doing alright for ourselves. We are, but that isn’t the point. It dodges the point quite neatly, really.

The point is not to ask ourselves how we’re doing as a group. The point is to ask ourselves as individuals “What can I do today, large or small, that will result in a better world?”

It’s said that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. It’s more than that; if you don’t stand up for yourself, you won’t stand up for others. So, we must complain. We must learn to stand up. No one can lean on us otherwise.