Friday, September 01, 2006


Letter to the Future

September 1, 2006

Because I write books, and because I've been a teacher since 1965 and
a professor since 1987, and because I raised three lovely boys who are
now young men and themselves brilliant teachers and writers, and
because I just spent part of the summer with my grand-daughter, and
because I've been a peace and social justice activist, a rebel, a
revolutionary, and a dissident for over forty years, I feel like I've
been writing letters to the future my whole adult life. You can see
some of this more fully—including some letters to young activists—on Here I'll be brief.
You're young. And the urgent demand on the young is to live. To
live fully and freely, unbound by stupidity, hypocrisy, all the forces
of death. To invent and reinvent yourselves. To decide what you will
make out of what you've been made. To choose who you will become in
the whirlwind into which you've been thrust. You can't choose
everything, it's true—you didn't choose your parents, for example,
your upbringing, your various privileges and oppressions, nor did you
choose to be born into the age of nuclear threat and globalization—but
you must choose who to be in light of all that. It's up to you.
Think of yourself as an unruly spark of meaning-making energy on a
voyage of discovery and surprise—always contingent, incomplete,
unfinished. Always something more to do and to be.
Remember that you're living in history—always dynamic, uncertain,
in-process—and that what you do or don't do actually makes a
difference, even though powerful voices keep saying that nothing you
do will have any impact. Open your eyes to the world around you, see
what's there, dig deeper, ask questions. There's always more to know,
more to do. Can you draw a free-hand sketch of the Middle-East? No?
Why not? Can you explain the history of the Kurds? Can you name
every government overthrown by the US from 1890-2006? Don't you think
that might explain something? You have work to do.
Americans are known the world over for having neither geographic
sense nor much historic knowledge. Who are we in the world? Where
are we in the world? Figure it out.
Remember, too, that the world is neither one-dimensional nor static.
To understand the world and your place in it, you must act upon it.
Just as you can only know ice cream by tasting it, jazz by hearing it,
bike-riding by doing it, you need to learn about the world through
your actions. When you act on the world, it acts back on you. Think
about it. Your schooling has ill-prepared you for action—it taught
you about nature while you need to learn from nature, it taught about
history while you need to learn from history.
Remember finally to engage all people, to embrace the least of us, to
go with the children and the hungry and the powerless and the people
in prison and the homeless. Don't bow down to either power or riches.
Love your families and friends and the miracle of each day, but be
willing to lend your energy when justice demands it. Love your one
precious life enough to find the joy and ecstasy in each moment, and
love the world enough to lend your weight when needed. Act up against
unnecessary suffering and pain, and anything that offends your soul.
Immerse yourself! Be a mensch! Don't let your life make a mockery
of your values! Dive into the wreckage!