Monday, April 14, 2008

Acting on AIDS by Jans

The following was submitted to the Daily Bruin at 1:40pm on Monday, April 14, 2008.
Think you know about AIDS? So did I.
We think we care. We know all about AIDS. We can say how many people die of it per second, minute, hour, day, month and year. We know the socio-political, the epidemiological, and the international developmental implications of AIDS. Such information shows we care.
But do we care? Do we know? Really? Do we understand what life is like in Africa? Are our hearts moved by the incomprehensible number of victims? Do we weep and mourn over those whose lives are being ravaged by AIDS? Before today, I never did. I said I did, but I didn't.
But today I wept for AIDS victims. I'm a controlled, rational person who doesn't cry over much. But I was broken today. Today I visited the Acting on AIDS tent in Wilson Plaza below Jans Steps. For 20 minutes, I experienced the life of Steven, a 12 year old Ugandan boy. I felt a shadow of his fear and shame. I sat in a room like his. I held a gun like his. I worried about having AIDS. For 20 long minutes, I had the illusion of being a boy in Uganda, and all the terror that goes along with it.
Today my comfortable little world was rocked by the power of a story; the experience shattered my cool rationality. Today my heart was torn out of my chest as I, for the first time, began to grasp the magnitude of the devastation of AIDS.
Then I saw something I never thought I'd see. I saw Christians responding to AIDS maturely. I saw them leading the way in responsible international development. I saw them call out for dialogue on the spiritual and philosophical implications of this. I saw them comfort those who mourned.
I saw Christians responding to the pandemic responsibly. The experience was hosted by World Vision, a Christian nonprofit that spends over $1 billion annually to support development. Their missionaries are well-drillers, clinic workers and micro-financiers. They practice sustainable international development practices. They hire Africans to inspire Africans to improve their own conditions, and with American money, provide them with the resources to do it.
World Vision lets you sponsor a child in Africa, connecting you to a real victim of the epidemic. The program lets you provide real comfort through your finances and even your own words in letters they deliver for you. Part of your money goes to the child directly, and the rest goes to the development of his community.
I also saw Christians asking for intellectual discourse. Coming out of the tent, there is a sign: "Question! Vent. Philosophize. Share. Lament." They challenge those of us who care about AIDS and love to think to debate and discuss this issue in an open forum. How should we feel about AIDS? How could a God allow this? Are we, in sunny California, obligated to respond? Where is God?
If you have the courage, visit the tent. 10am-10pm Tuesday; 10am-5pm Wednesday. Then do something about it. Sponsor an African child through World Vision. Or answer the intellectual challenge at the website above. Or do something else. But don't ignore it.
We owe the organizers a debt of gratitude for making AIDS tangible. It's not statistics. It's people. And I think I'm finally starting to understand.
David Carreon

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

How to Really Care About Others

We don't really care about other people. We know so much about their friends, their hobbies, and their education. We seem to have the idea that these things are what make a person who they are. We care about their environments, but we don't care about them.

Why don't we value others' ideas? It's exactly what they value most. Have you ever tried to ask somebody's opinion on something? They're almost always elated to give it to you. They're thrilled that you think them important enough to ask their opinion on anything. We spend so much time with other people, but how rarely do we actually care about what's really important to them. How rarely do we care about what really defines them, about the thing which made Frederick Douglass a hero, about the expression of our humanity.

If you really want to make someone your good friend, ask them who they really are. Ask about the most important choices they've ever made: their beliefs. "What do you think about..." could be the harbinger of a renaissance and deepen our ever-shallowing relationships. End the sentence with 'success,' 'beauty,' 'politics,' 'God,' 'purpose,' 'truth,' 'choice' or 'science.' The deeper, the better.

And don't even try, "I'm no philosopher," because that's just another way of saying, "I'd rather have old guys who sit in musty rooms decide what the purpose of my life should be." And indeed, that's what most of you have done. Be Courageous. Liberate yourself and your friends from the terrible slavery of such unquestioned compliance. Build an underground railroad to intellectual freedom, one question at a time.

We’ve fought so hard for the freedom of thought. We've achieved it. Nobody's going to level a rifle at you for thinking or expressing your thoughts. But now that we have the freedom to express our ideas, nobody cares. Indifference is crueler than any bayonet. At least the soldier pressing your face to the dirt with his boot sincerely cares about your ideas; he would like very much that you not express them. Now that you’ve escaped the soldier, exercise your freedom to ask questions of your friends.

But what about, "Don't talk about God or politics?" Those who express such an opinion must be afraid that you might actually get to know somebody. It is exactly those things, the things which are most important to who we are, that we should talk about. The conflict comes because we behave like children when "discussing" God and politics.

"Republicans are warmongers!" "Christians are mindless!" "Muslims are terrorists!" Even if you are actually dumb enough to believe one of these statements, you can still have good conversation. Imagine hearing, "I believe in God." Would you respond as a child with a rehearsed insult ("Sheep!")? Don't be surprised when civil discourse crumbles under the great weight of your immaturity. Or would you respond in maturity and ask, "Why do you believe in God?" As a mature questioner, you could ask question after question without even expressing your own belief, let alone getting upset at your Theistic companion. You can get to know that person better in an hour of such conversation than a month of our status quo friendship.

We're so out of practice with thinking together that great progress would be made simply by starting our conversations with "What do you think?"

So, what do you think? I'd love to know: