By Lindsay Fernandes
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a teacher who was universally disliked for being really boring and really hard. His monotone reminds me of that teacher from The Wonder Years who put everybody to sleep. He loved philosophy, and his classes were more subjective than objective.
So obviously, I sort of liked him. He taught me AP American History, and although I have a certain working knowledge of that subject that I’m sure came from him, there was one particular moment from that class that stuck with me.
He split the desks in his classroom up to form several clumps, probably three or four desks together in each group, and told us to imagine that these represented boats. And he drew names so that a chosen few of us, maybe one or two per each grouping of desks, could sit on top of each “boat.” Not in chairs, but on top. And then the rest of the class had to sit on the floor. He told us in no uncertain terms that the students sitting on boats, of which I happened to be one, had the responsibility of making sure that each boat stayed afloat. He said that we were the smartest ones, the ones with the knowledge to keep those boats afloat, and that if we allowed more than one or two other students to sit with us, our boats would sink and we would all perish in the churning sea. So to speak.
And then he let the students on the floor fight it out. They tried to board our boats, and we supposedly tried to beat them away with imaginary oars. Some of the boat captains did a great job; I did not. I could not tell my fellow students that they couldn’t board my boat. I could not tell my fellow students that they would have to drown so that I could remain afloat. I let them all in, and I remember feeling a little sheepish, because I was maybe the only one that took the exercise quite so seriously. But I found this lesson powerful and disturbing enough to have retained it in my psyche for fifteen or so years.
Now best I can remember this was a unit on Plato’s allegory of the ship, which, it’s worth noting, is actually a defense of monarchy rule, certainly not a recommendation of democracy. I’m not entirely sure that’s right though, because what remains with me best is the lesson learned, not the philosopher.
The point is, I got the point.
We, as a nation, have long rejected this philosophy. The idea that we have to defend what’s ours at the cost of all others. The idea that we need to beat the riffraff away from our boat, or they’ll take us down with them.
The idea that we need to close our borders against any and all that believe differently than we do.
The idea that cruelty against the masses is justified as long as the chosen, the powerful, the knowledgeable, are safe.
The idea that one all powerful, all knowing ruler knows what’s best for the rest of us and is entitled to use that knowledge as total power. Our very constitution, in fact, guards us against these ideas. Ideas that our forefathers found not only restrictive and outdated, but dangerous.
I’ve been particularly disturbed this past weekend by what I’ve seen our new leader doing in the name of nationalism. I’ve been particularly disturbed to see innocent people stranded, rejected, left dangling in limbo without a home or a safe haven. Children separated from their parents with a cold dismissive cruelty. Allies of our nation unable to find their way home, and told, in fact, that they are no longer welcome for reasons of birth or religion. And all the while, our leader publicly mocks those, like me, who shed tears for their neighbors in this world.
What is even more disturbing to me is to hear friends defending these actions as necessary for our safety and well being as a nation.
But our boat will sink! They might say.
I rejected this notion as a sophomore in high school, and I reject this notion now.
Goodness is not a weakness, but a strength.
Diversity is not a weakness, but a strength.
Kindness is not a weakness, but a strength.
Love is not a weakness, but a strength.
Inclusion is not a weakness, but a strength.
Fear, I believe, is the greatest weakness of all, followed closely by division. I’ve said it before and I will continue to say it.
I will not fear my neighbor.