People must escape suppression of themselves and of society. They must raise the bar of thoughts and ideas that have been set so low. Authority sets acceptable levels of behavior so society runs smoothly, and it does run smoothly. Smoothly down hill. Ideas of peace and equality, freedom and justice are an uphill struggle but one that raises the value of people and a community.
The most effective way to achieve these goals is the use of peaceful persuasion. Though the use of violence also brings positive change through negative tactics, there are always immeasurable losses, and the changes are slower. We are forced to see that violence rarely has a justifiable cause. Violence is too extreme to evoke maximum positive change.
Some of the most influential people throughout human history have challenged the line of thought and reason that governed people’s lives, and in the midst of persecution and oppression succeeded in elevating our level of thought. With their example we have the fuel that will propel humanity into the stratosphere of harmony.
Teenagers of every generation have challenged the rules of society, within their own households and within the community. Teenagers don’t challenge these rules as the philosophers throughout history have but instead are trying to establish their individuality and identity. Teenagers rebel through clothing and art and force parental figures to reevaluate their idea of what is acceptable. Historical figures had the same goal but on a larger scale of entire nations, races, sexes, and generations.
The standards of the masses are effective tools for managing large groups of people, but as generation after the generation becomes larger, and more educated, some rules must be altered or left by the wayside completely. Even though rules need to be changed over time, the idea of changing them almost seems appalling. The standards that are in place make a nice cozy womb within which we can operate our lives comfortably. When these get upturned the effect can be frightening and even dangerous. Yet it has to be done or we people, families, society, and governments will stagnate and destroy ourselves, so that we would have to restart from the beginning, back to violence and anarchy.
Civil Disobedience, by Henry David Thoreau (180), was and is a road map to understanding the differences of just and unjust. Thoreau set values of self worth and righteousness over the worth of the government. He rose up against the idea that government is absolute. He made a road map for the rest of us to follow, allowing us to ascend to a level of thought and a process of thinking that increases the value of every person that is privileged to be affected by his ideas. Over one hundred years later we hear his voice clearly through Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (151) to the clerical community of Alabama who were afraid that Dr. King’s presence would upturn the progress they had made within the community when actually they were operating in an illusion of progress. If not for Dr. King, the feathers of standard values would have never been ruffled and the necessary changes that took place because of Dr. King would have eventually happened but at a slower pace, if not reverting back completely to the old standards of segregation. Indeed both the black and white communities might have instituted segregation on their own to remain in a comfortable and familiar environment.
Many people going back as far as the beginning of written history have changed the world when they assigned new values for people. It is regrettable that these values corrupt over time. But when every person challenges his or her own path of teaching, we stave off corruption and shine as if polished metal.
Sherman Alexie expresses his regret in the way Native American Indians thought of themselves. Though history, they along with many other minorities, have been suppressed. Alexie emphasizes that they were suppressing themselves even more brutally. “Superman and Me” (147), illustrates how he cast off the weights that his society wanted him to carry to be considered successful. He says in his last sentence of “Superman and Me”, “I am trying to save our lives” (149). Indeed he was trying to save our lives, because if he allowed himself to be held down by the values and ideas of a “successful” Indian, he would have been committing treason to himself and to his race. Through writing literature, reading literature, and creating poetry he set new and higher bars for a person, within his society, to measure success and self-worth.
Thus far these heroes have been nonviolent and extremely influential. A look into fiction shows us the dangers of challenging values and ideas violently. “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane”, Etheridge Knight (134), is a poem of a rebellious prisoner. “Hard Rock was ‘known not to take no shit from nobody’” (134), states Knight. Hard Rock had been beaten repeatedly and had scars to prove it, and continued on being a violent agitator. He constantly fought guards and gave hope and motivation to the other inmates, until he returned from the hospital after a lobotomy, returning suppression and stability to the prisoners.
Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” had the same outcome as “Hard Rock…”. Randal McMurphy, the main character, wasn’t as violent as Hard Rock. McMurphy used manipulation and subversive techniques to try and change the rules of the insane asylum. It’s notable that McMurphy was a sane criminal and a violent offender. After attempting to subvert the power structure of the hospital, McMurphy tried to change the patients of the asylums view of themselves. Too bad he took this route in the end, and his success was too little too late.
Literature dealing with this issue is extensive. Throughout history non-violent people have exhibited the most positive changes, and the minority of negative individuals has led us into wars, genocide, and discrimination. If these individuals had used positive approaches, several things would have happened. One is that they would have realized that their ideas were neither rational nor just, and all would have stopped there. We did however learn through these hard lessons that people are equal and precious.
Jesus Christ and his prophets, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, Buddha, have all taught equality and peacefulness. They all challenged existing ideals and the acceptable levels of behavior. All of them experienced either ridicule, segregation, oppression, imprisonment, or even death for their radical ideas. Yet the wrongs that were done to them amplified their voice. Through their actions we see non-violent action receives the best reaction.
If people didn’t try to rise above the limits that are set for all of us, the bar of society would smother us all, but if every one of us pushes the bar slightly higher instead of holding it where it is, the entire world would reach a level of enlightenment only imagined by philosophical heroes who left their great ideas, and great ways of achieving those ideas behind for us to use as models.
Alexie, Sherman. “Superman and Me” in Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Missy James and Alan Merickel, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. Pages 147-149
Ken Kesey. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Penguin Books (USA) Inc. 375 Hudson St. New York, NY 1000141976
King Jr., Dr. Martin Luther. “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Missy James and Alan Merickel, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. Pages 151-162
Knight, Etheridge. “Hard Rock Returns to Prison from the Hospital for the Criminal Insane” in Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Missy James and Alan Merickel, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. Pages 134-135
Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience” in Reading Literature and Writing Argument. Missy James and Alan Merickel, Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2005. Pages 180-194