Thursday, November 4, 2004

29. Change is slow and costly

Fredrick Douglas believed that without struggle there could be no progress. With this, let us never underestimate the power of ideas. Progress is the acceptance of change, the release of biases and prejudice, brought about first by ideology. Unfortunately, many have suffered for what they believed to be right, and out of necessity, for change would not have occurred otherwise.

History is full of those that fought for what they believed to be right, against some sort of authority and against some sort of establishment. The establishment becomes entrenched in their own ideas, and, most notably, their own interest. Those who presented unpopular ideas are criticized, labeled, harassed, and often murdered. It takes a while for a new idea to develop, to become accepted, because most resist change, and most don't want their beliefs challenged.

One of history's earliest sacrifices begins with the death of Socrates in 399 B.C.E. Studied now in universities across the globe as one of philosophy's greatest teachers, Socrates was sentenced to death for influencing the aristocratic young citizens of Athens. Through discussions on topics such as truth and justice, Socrates challenged the certainty of popular opinions and ancient steadfast ideas. The parents brought Socrates to trial where he was convicted of "corrupting the youth and interfering with the religion of the city." Socrates, in graceful spirit, accepted his fate, refused to sacrifice his principles, and drank hemlock with friends and disciples.

Galileo Galilei dared to challenge the notion that the earth was the center of the universe. At the time, this scientific breakthrough conflicted with the prevailing religious ideas and, inadvertently, sought to question man's significance in the universe. Pope Urban VIII censored his book (Dialogue) and referred Galileo to the Inquisition. After weeks of imprisonment and interrogation, Galileo plead guilty to an erroneous theory in order to receive a lesser sentence. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest for heresy. In 1992, the Catholic Church finally admitted to the errors made by the theological advisors in the case of Galileo Galilei.

Many civil rights leaders have suffered, first to end slavery, then toward equal rights. Martin Luther King, who practiced peaceful demonstrations, fought against poverty and for the right to vote. He spoke out against Vietnam and for the right of workers to organize. He led "marches" and "camp-ins." For his effort, because of his ideology that one day we could have a truly integrated society, he was assassinated. He was one of many that were murdered for his or her civil rights activism.

Still others have endured in order to have their ideas considered. Susan B. Anthony was arrested in her quest for women's suffrage. Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail because he objected to his poll tax dollars being spent on the Mexican War and the enforcement of slavery laws. Millions have died for speaking out against their governments or defending their religions. They have been slaughtered, beheaded and hung for expressing their ideas or fighting for their cause. Millions have been arrested for protesting wars, demanding equal rights, as well as singular causes like protecting the environment or saving the rain forests.

It is called progress because usually, eventually, society gets things right. These men and women were ultimately right; it just took awhile for people to erase their prejudices, biases and fears. Where once tyranny ruled, democracy is preferred. Whereas once only a few believed in equal rights for minorities, now one is labeled a racist if he or she does not believe it. Most women are now educated and work, no longer is their "place" in the kitchen. We've come a long way in the last few hundred years but there is still a lot to accomplish. And that is sometimes the problem with a democracy; it takes a long time to change the minds of a majority whose beliefs are based on some sort of ancient philosophy. What progressive ideas of today will be readily accepted in the future?

Although this country, in my opinion, took a couple steps backwards in the recent election on a number of issues- society, I am confident, will continue to make progress. Progress will continue and someday people will welcome and understand some of the few issues that they have yet come to accept. And maybe, just maybe, someday a good idea will simply be reasoned, considered and accepted- without the struggle, or the sacrifice.

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