Where is the Bliss?
Contrary to popular opinion and to the old axiom, ignorance IS NOT bliss; it's dangerous. In America, two examples suffice to illustrate this point.
One example is that, without enough information about the potential of Saddam Hussein to truly threaten the USA, without a proper understanding of the cultural and religious complexity of Iraqi society, and without knowledge of the fact that secular Saddam and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden were actually enemies rather than brothers in arms, the American public unquestioningly supported George W. Bush in invading Iraq in 2003. The result has been a tremendous loss of life, billions of dollars wasted while casting an entire country into ruin, and much damage done to America's reputation abroad.
For another example, you only have to turn the clock back 60 years to the end of the Second World War. At that time, the nation of Vietnam, which had been under the dominion of the Japanese, and prior to that for nearly a hundred years, the French, was declared independent by one of its most popular factional leaders, the scholarly Ho Chi Minh. Uncle Ho, as he was affectionately called by his people, had tried to negotiate support for his nationalist movement from the US. He had even communicated with several former presidents about his nation's desire for statehood. Roosevelt, who died shortly before the end of WWII, dubbed Ho as one of the most articulate and wisest men he had ever met. But again, because of the general American ignorance about Southeast Asian history and cultures, an irrational fear of the Vietnamese leader's "communist" aspirations and his country's ties to China and the Soviet Union was perpetrated by warmongers. The eventual result was a conflict that lasted 30 years (roughly 1945-1975), one in which million of pounds of bombs were dropped, billions of dollars wasted, the destinies of three countries-- Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia-- sent into a tailspin, and 50,000 American soldiers and 4,000,000 Vietnamese killed.
Today, on the eve of the inauguration of Barack Obama as the first biracial American president, America and the world at large are at a historical turning point. Citizens the world over can look back to a US presidency dominated by fear-mongering, fixed ideas about good and evil, and narrow-minded dogmatism; at the same time, we can see forward with hope inspired by a new, more intelligent, more globally astute leader, one who has sharpened his mind and communication skills with careful, critical study, wide reading and broad social networking.
Barack Obama is a model for citizens/students everywhere, as a man who came from modest means and yet took pride in developing himself, in shaping his own capabilities, in learning about the world then fine-tuning his place in it and his destiny.
photo Doug Mills/The New York Times
Two articles in The New York Times well describe Obama and his commitment to learning. One, entitled The Long, Lame Goodbye, is essentially a brief comparison of Bush and Obama. The other, entitled
From Books, the New President Found Voice, describes part of Obama's self-education process. Read these and consider the role that an education plays in shaping the place that each of us reaches in the world and how that learning impacts not just our world view, but the crucial decisions that we make.
And finally, here is a quote that succinctly gets at the heart of the matter, from the ubiquitous Lao Tzu:
Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in living creates love.