There’s a poem by Yeats called “The Second Coming” in which he remarks that “the best lack all convictions, while the worst, are full of passionate intensity.” He’s right.
I was perusing the various news websites this morning (part of my daily ritual, by the way), which ranged from good ole’ CNN and NYT to BBC and Al-jazeera. And, you know what, we’re losing. When I say we, what I mean is the good guys or the so-called “best” as Yeats would say. Here’s the problem:
Too frequently we grow too comfortable in our lives. We don’t “do” anything to improve the world at large, but only focus on ourselves and the here and now. In essence, we adopted the carpe diem attitude of early 19th century America. We “eat, drink, and [are] merry because tomorrow we die.” Not good at all. Truly, what are our convictions? What are the convictions of the nation? When I say the nation, I don’t mean the official line of the United States government-no, that’s too easy. I mean, what are the convictions of the American people? Do we or do we not want to wipe out drug abuse in our country? Do we or do we not want to cripple the death-dealing disease HIV/AIDS? Do we or do we not want to get a grip on teenage pregnancies? Sure, we are doing something to solve those problems-but do we have a strong enough conviction to actually go all the way? Or will we back off when the investment costs too much- whether time, money, or manpower?
The “worst”, however, are indeed filled with passion to push their agenda forward. Evil men who stand on the street corners peddling drugs or politics do so in brazen fashion without a care or a fear in the world. There was a guy in my high school who was arrested more times for dealing drugs than I have fingers; however, he kept dealing regardless of how many times he was caught- that’s conviction, that’s passion. But, what about us?
How many failures and disappointments does it take to make the “good” quit? Ahhh, if only we had the drive of the guy in my high school, then what a world it will be. And, there is proof that it does work… Look at the history of the civil rights movement. It began not in the 1950s with MLK and the Montgomery Boycott, not in the early 1900s with the NAACP and W.E.B. DuBois, not in the late 19th century with Booker T. Washington… I could keep peeling back the decades. How many times were the people who fought for civil liberties arrested, beaten, or murdered? Thank God Yeats’ remarks didn’t hold true to them, that they- the good- were actually filled with a “passionate intensity” and didn’t lack “conviction.”
I’m worried that we have too few people like the aforementioned today. I’m worried that Simon and Garfunkel’s remarks still serve as a desparate truth: “Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you…”