“Never, never, never give up.”

I will admit that I get disheartened often. Even though beauty, love and joy should never be ignored or discounted, because they are always there in some form, this life on Earth is also slam full of problems, selfishness, anger and nonsense. Those obstacles to leading a good, clean life seemingly never cease flowing forward and outward, like a muddy river that has overtaken its banks and now spills out into our streets, our front yards and sometimes our living rooms. In general, I believe that people are good and I have faith in the human race, something along the lines of what William Faulkner mumbled in his Nobel Prize speech: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.” But read Faulkner’s novels and you’ll know that he clearly got disheartened by the human race, too.

I have lots to say about my ideas and observations, but I have no position of leadership by which to enforce my ideals on either people, and frankly, I never want such a position. I’m a pack mule, and I know it. I like doing drudge work and playing support roles. When I used to work in theater, I preferred the backstage tech work that happened in the dark where no one saw it, and more recently, I have remained a classroom teacher and resisted all suggestions that I pursue a job in administration. There is some character trait necessary for leadership – maybe it’s charisma, maybe it’s arrogance – and I don’t have it. I rarely see anyone follow my example or even see people follow my dictates, as a general rule; I tend to be out here on my own, doing my own thing – maybe it’s rebelliousness, maybe it’s eccentricity – but I don’t really follow other people either, as a habit. But living life like that, there is one lesson I have definitely learned: as my dad used to say, quoting Lewis Grizzard. “If you ain’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes.”

I look out at the world with a solution-oriented mind and an inclination toward progressive change, and I see many means for improving our Deep Southern culture lying on the ground waiting to be picked up. I see hard-working teachers and caring parents both looking at under-educated kids, but each set of adults is too busy pointing the fingers at each other and emphasizing solutions that make no sense— and I want to ask, why aren’t you working together instead of blaming each other? I want to ask similar questions about why processed food is being devoured, and healthier locally grown organics are too expensive for many people to afford. I want to ask too about why we are still relying on brutal over-incarceration policies to solve social problems that we clearly refuse to face, like racism and economic inequality. To pile one more on, I want to ask why the wealthiest nation on Earth is drowning in debt trying to police the entire planet with its military. From everything I read and listen to, these problems can be solved . . . if we agree that our current practices aren’t working and agree that cooperation is better than partisanship.

If I had a platform of leadership, I would say to everyone who would listen: The way to raise children is to be involved in their lives at all points and use our collective wisdom to lead them all of their waking hours toward making good decisions! The way to stay healthy is to consume mostly fresh vegetables, some meat and plenty of water, instead of gorging on over-salted, sugary processed foods and drinks! The way to stop destroying the environment is to acknowledge that dumping mega-tons of unnatural substances into rivers, lakes and landfills can’t be good for the planet. And the way to reform schools is to stop ignoring, underfunding and blaming teachers and start cooperating, all together. I could keep going . . .

As an avid news-watcher, I see continual barrage of stories that make me shake my head. I don’t know why some state leaders across the Deep South try to build careers on being as hateful and as discriminatory as they can to as many people as they can, when they need to be spending their time lifting up those in need. (That trend isn’t only in the Deep South; our attention is diverted west to Arizona often enough.) It’s pretty easy to get disheartened. However, the people who truly want to see this world be a better place for all people must take Winston Churchill’s famous advice: “Never, never, never give up.”

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