August 24, 2010

The Sound of Silence

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Welcome freshmen to one of the finest universities in the world. You got here because throughout your entire life you have been asking questions, taking initiative and working hard. From a young age you have been told that you’re gifted and going places. Starting when you were in pre-school, your Popsicle stick and Elmer’s glue creations were crafted in such a skillful manner that teachers and parents knew, even at that early age, that there was a spark of brilliance within you. Take a moment to realize that you’re now part of the life and blood of Cornell and will be bringing a much welcomed stream of new energy and ideas to the classroom and Ithaca community. So here’s to you; Cheers to the Class of 2014, may the next four years give you the tools and connections necessary to be successful and achieve a life of passion and fulfillment. With that said, these next four years will also be challenging ones. From day one you must be wary of not only the Freshman 15, but also of the shades we put on while on the corporate conveyer belt; both will weigh your potential and perspective down. At the end of the Big Red rainbow a literal pot of gold awaits, the world’s top paying jobs. And although we work very hard to get there, we make it too easy for the out of sight to become out of mind. This summer at a nighttime Cornell networking event in New York City, young alumni and upperclassmen gathered at a bar. It didn’t take many drinks before things picked up; the mingling began, the dancing followed, and in no time the Jersey Shore recap commentary sparked. Everyone was quoting The Situation and his clubbing and late-night Jacuzzi mishaps with landmines and grenades. In fact it’s the most watched television program on Thursdays, but the ratings that no one is talking about — not the media nor young professionals when they gather together to socialize — is that by the time the new episode of Jersey Shore airs tomorrow 14 human beings, while tending to a herd, walking to school or playing outside, will have become victims to landmines. Four of them will be young children. Ninety-eight more people from a list of 78 countries will be added to the roster of casualties from explosive remnants of war and victim-activated IEDs by next week’s episode. A third of those will be children.   The issue is not Jersey Shore, or enjoying it, or talking about it — like junk food it’s fun and harmless in small doses. The issue is making the world a better place. We had an Elmer’s and Popsicle stick childhood. Tomorrow, the fate of four small children will not be determined in arts and crafts, rather by shrapnel and anti-personnel cluster munition submunitions. How often do we talk about this? Why don’t we? Why don’t we feel accountable? We don’t talk about it because we need a break from real life, from information overload. We inherit an Americentric view of the world from our news channels which enables a lack of knowledge, fueling and furthering a cycle of ignorance and apathy. Answering those questions was easy, because they’re simply excuses. I pose these three new questions: how do we make ourselves informed and accountable, and what are the harms of silence? Accountability is straight forward. American isolationist policy ended in the 1940s, but Americentric perspectives have remained. A now globalized and flattened world, our actions are no longer contained within our boundaries and the repercussions from American policy shockwave across oceans and borders. Whether dropping prices through our subsidies, or bombs over Baghdad, documents that get signed on American soil decimate economic opportunities and lives in other continents. Even at a bar, where it’s understandably not the ideal scenario for intellectual conversations, why can’t we discuss what’s happening around the world? Africa’s frail conditions, tyranny in Tibet and Burma — they are far away problems and we have our own. First we need to stop viewing them as a problem, rather see them as opportunities to help people. Human tragedy needs to be addressed, not seen as a distraction but approached with a blazing desire to act. So pick one you like; currently there are 27 or so recognized major conflicts and wars going on. Half of Africa is ranked at the top of the Failed State Index, the other half trails frighteningly behind. Although families and relatives haven’t, it seems as though Haiti is long gone from the media and the public’s memory. There were more than 220,000 casualties, $14 billion in damages, it is the largest natural disaster of modern times and it just happened! Yet we’re waiting for the NBC Special on Haiti — One Year After the Earthquake — to update us. And as tens of thousands of dead fish and sea mammals have begun to dock on the Gulf shores, they’re five weeks too late, the BP Oil Spill has already left our system. For all of the phenomena listed above, they have their own dynamics. Read up on Katrina and then talk about it at breakfast. Have your roommate update you on Somalia at CTB. It takes effort to either remain within or shatter the sound of silence. The healthiest most sustainable lifestyle one can achieve doesn’t come from food choices, exercise, hairstyle or money, rather from community. Cheers once again to 2014, you are now part of the Cornell community, and as your first day of classes begin today, may you also commence your journey towards building a universal family. Vicente Gonzalez is a senior in the College of Industrial and Labor Relations. He may be reached at vgonzalez@cornellsun.com. Color Between the Lines appears alternate Thursdays this semester.

Original Author: Vicente Gonzalez