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Possibilitiess
       We are now entering a new world of possibilities with the potential for a positive change. This is something we should all consider seriously and find how we can contribute to moving in the right direction. Consider the perspective expressed by James Gleick in Genius: “…children are innate scientists, probing, puttering, experimenting with the possible and impossible in a confused local universe. Children and scientists share an outlook on life. ‘If I do this, what will happen?’ is both the motto of the child at play and the defining refrain of the physical scientist. Every child is observer, analyst, and taxonomist, building a mental life through a sequence of intellectual revolutions, constructing theories and promptly shedding them when they no longer fit. The unfamiliar and the strange – these are the domain of all children and scientists.”
       As Chris Colfer said in The Enchantress Returns, “If I have the choice of being doubtful or being hopeful, I’m going to choose hopeful. It takes less work to be positive.” This is especially critical regarding our fractured government. Reinhold Niebuhr noted “Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” President Biden’s inaugural speech, seeking unity, brings back a point made by President Johnson in his State of the Union address 57 years ago: “Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in the failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities.” Hopefully, actions will finally address this, which is one of Biden’s crisis issues.
       This positive perspective of possibilities regarding government overlaps a similar perspective in education, the profession I followed for 46 years. In The Philosophy of American Education, G. Max Wingo pointed out how “the fact is often overlooked that democracy, more than any other mode of social life, lays the heaviest obligations on its members….the necessity for making decisions and shouldering the responsibility for them….active participation in policy making is not only crucial in democratic social life…it is important to get about it as early as possible.” This concept was even more strongly stressed by Ivan Illich: “Education is not teaching; it is learning. Education is having the tools made available to you to learn in whatever way you wish, and it is being motivated to learn by having presented to you the wonderful world of possibilities.” Considering that, I like how, in The Pleasure of Finding Things Out, Richard Feynman asked “…an interesting question of the relation of science to modern society is just that – why is it possible for people to stay so woefully ignorant and yet reasonably happy in modern society when so much knowledge is unavailable to them?” This absence of knowledge is an important component in many of our existing problems.
       Moving out of our current world of conflict and confrontation will not be simple. Turning again to Ivan Illich, I like the way our broader perspectives need to be clearer and less complicated. “Social mobility in America is a lying myth, and it will always be so as long as people are taught that such mobility is not only possible but always desirable. Very few people are encouraged to do a job, do it well and to keep on doing it as long as they like it. If you take that route, there must be something wrong with you.” In Escape from Freedom, Erich Fromm noted: “The victory of freedom is possible only if democracy develops into a society…in which life does not need any justification in success or anything else….” We need to shed complexities that are unnecessary. As Albert Einstein stated: “Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.”
       “Not being a normal being, [man] was not bound by normal rules. But this excuse no longer exists, and he knows, or at least he should know, that he has a responsibility toward all other life and toward the environment that has made his existence possible. It is this responsibility that…man is ignoring.” This point was presented in 1969 by Alexander B. Adams in The Eternal Quest. Two centuries earlier, Samuel Johnson had made a more generic statement: “Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome.” That is a critical point. Progress is not possible unless we are willing to exert effort. In Dragon Weather, Lawrence Watt-Evans reinforced this when he said: “This was heartening; only rarely in his long life had he seen much evidence of human competence….Too many people were willing to suffer under various forms of oppression, rather than make the effort necessary to improve their lot.”
       In 1935, an earlier trying historic period, Konrad Z. Lorenz noted in Morals and Weapons of Animals: “The day will come when two warring factions will be faced with the possibility of each wiping the other out completely. The day may come when the whole of mankind is divided into two such opposing camps. Shall we then behave like doves or like wolves? The fate of mankind will be settled by the answer to this question.” Fifty-eight years later, in Black Holes and Baby Universes, Stephen Hawking stated: “Unless we can use our intelligence to control our aggression, there is not much chance for the human race.” And, as Mary Stewart pointed out in A Walk in Wolf Wood: “We are given chances, and after that it is up to us. If we have neither the courage nor the wit to grasp them and follow them up, then they are gone, and gone forever. At least we must try. The people who never do so are those who spend an old age of regret and bitterness.” Now is the time for us to strive for unity.
       In the August 1981 issue of Reader’s Digest, Roger Tory Peterson stated how “anyone can do enough to get by….The real satisfaction in life comes from knowing that you’ve set the highest possible standards for yourself and then lived up to them!” Turning again to Lawrence Watt-Evans, he stated in The Ninth Talisman that “sometimes you need to take a chance, and see if it works. If it doesn’t, well, you learn what there is to be learned, you clean up the mess, and you go on.” Saint Francis Assisi earlier said: “Start by doing what’s necessary, then what’s possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.”
       As a closing point, I would like to turn to T.S. Eliot, who noted: “Sometimes things become possible if we want them hard enough.”
      
      
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