Lighting the First Lamps
Opening for the day, we light the first lamps on the stage. We welcome in the audience, the performers, and the caretakers of our lives. As the show goes on, and the curtain falls, we then extinguish the lamps at the close of the day. Saying goodbye to all that has occurred.
What are “the first lamps?”
Are they icons of illumination? They show us how we should behave. They mark zones of knowledge by chasing away the clouds of ignorance that once filled such space. They are truth.
Truth. Knowledge. Anti-ignorance. Pretty words and powerful forces.
What is truth? Is all knowledge valuable? Is not ignorance bliss?
Truth is incontrovertible. Truth is relative. Which is true? How do we define our reality?
Questions define our line of thought and guide our reasoning. But they reflect our assumptions just as much as the lead us to answers.
Assumptions. Expected answers. When we think we know how things are and will be.
But if we don’t challenge our assumptions, if we don’t invite the unexpected, then we never grow. As a species, as a nation, as a culture, as a person.
“It can’t be done” is the most powerful and motivating set of words in any language. Because it defines for us what needs to be done.
For me, these words hold less power than they should. To me, so much has been done already, that I assume those things still to be done are a forgone conclusion.
Mars? We’ll make it.
AI? It’s coming.
Robot cars? Already on the road, only a matter of time before we all have them.
Even the areas that depend on shifts in the culture are assumed ends. To me, such changes are no-brainers:
Smart guns that lock when out of the owner’s hand. Duh.
Widespread acceptance of transgendered, bisexual, and multiethnic individuals in positions of leadership. Of course.
Nuclear safeguards and deproliferation. Obviously.
Compassion for those struck by crisis and forced to flee their homes. How could you not?
Getting rid of the penny. Right? There’s really no argument against this.
But in my optimism, I recognize that I live in a bubble. To my mind, which focuses on a subset of the population both dedicated to and vocal about such technological and social developments, it seems like the whole world is trending in that direction.
Except it’s not, save for the efforts of hard-working people.
If not for researchers, programmers, investors, businessmen, and policy-makers in a variety of fields that I can’t even begin to name with any semblance of authority, technological development in this world would stall right where it’s at. With iPhones, Spotify, and Uber.
If not for brave, vocal individuals speaking out and standing up for their rights to equality, shaping the conversation locally, nationally, or globally by the way they live their lives, we would easily continue to ignore the plights of those different from us.
Because it is so easy to live in your bubble.
When I was younger, I lived in a bubble of my family’s making, as we all surely do at first.
It was easy for me to assume, like a child, that everyone was similar to me. That my life’s experiences were representative of the world’s life experiences. That Sunday-morning church, Saturday-morning cartoons, and family dinners were how everyone spent their time.
It’s a pretty picture, and one that led me to think little of the differences between boy, girl, black, white, child, or adult when I was growing up. To me, we were all people, so we should all get along.
Except my idea of people was what I saw within my bubble.
Now I live in another bubble. One of technology, and self-assertion, and social justice. And it is just as easy today to fall into the trap of assuming the world is trending in my direction. That each person is slowly undergoing the same awakening toward acceptance that I myself have undergone.
But the reality is very different. Because the reality is that we each have our bubbles. And my idea of how the world is and which way it is moving, even if it is correct, is going to be different from your idea of how the world is and which way it is moving.
And that vision will be different from each and every other person’s vision.
It will differ from the student meeting diversity for the first time on a big town college campus.
It will differ from the bigot clinging to ideals passed down by a parent or learned through a poor encounter with the Other.
It will differ from the victim searching for justice or holding onto hate, both as a means to explain their experience.
It will differ from our leaders, who are trying to strike a balance between doing their jobs and keeping their jobs while listening to hundreds of thousands of opinions under an ever-expanding halo of pressure and derision.
It will differ from our children. As they learn from our examples and someday grow to challenge our ideals.
No matter how open or closed our minds may be today, there are always voices on the outside of our bubble, daring to push their way in and pop our pretensions so we can expand our awareness and see a wider view of the world.
No matter how many lamps we light upon our life’s stage, there will always be darkened corners of the theater to explore.