Recognize mortality to cool campus climate: Challenging Privilege

Posted by Danny Pforte

After attending the Cornel West lecture and after having an intimate breakfast with him and the rest of the Intergroup Relations (IGR) team the following morning, I feel the need to reflect upon the purpose of human life.

In the U.S., we are born into a nation of conflict. We are a people passed along a conveyer belt, built up with socially constructed expectations, only to be met with disappointment, fear, loss and suffering, while the creators of the system stand by and watch.

For the few that reap the benefits, it has become easy to shrink into a cowardly apathetic state and shed accountability. For the rest, hope is lost. Survival mode is in full force. So what is the purpose of human life?

I agree with Dr. West that a major step in finding purpose is learning how to die. Learning how to die means that we go beyond our comfort zone. It means critically engaging with our surroundings and grappling with harsh realities, and that to not do so would be to let go of what it truly means to love. It means connecting love and justice with an unbreakable bond. When we love, as Dr. West said, we can't stand to see others treated badly.

The painful truth — one that I believe has driven us into our bubbles and away from our purpose — is that the very country we live in is on the brink of collapse. The powerful have formed a systematic oligarch complex enough to blind us to difference and hatred, and also powerful enough to make us turn a blind eye toward love and community.

The sense of individual pride and power we are taught to embrace (that lie called the "American Dream") has sapped us of the compassion that we may have otherwise had for those unable to gain access to the creators' power and privilege.

Too many of us have bought into the idea that we live in a vacuum and that our purpose is to strive for wealth that we can earn all by ourselves. This sense of independence seems gratifying, but it is extremely problematic. None of us who have ever gained privileges within our unfair system have ever done so alone. Privilege always has and always will come with help. Many of our privileges come in the form of hereditary power, such as the inheritance of wealth among the upper class and the ongoing political dominance of white men.

The purpose of human life is to critically analyze what we have been told is true and to challenge the status quo. Instead of following the leaders of apathy, oppression and fear, we should take a step back and look through a different lens. Listen to the voices that you cannot relate to and make an effort to understand them.

Empathy is not guaranteed, but we must work toward this important life goal. Flip the script of the American Dream and better yourself by learning from people whom you fear, whom you hate. Only after striving toward this goal can we truly fulfill life's purpose.

The campus climate has been a hot topic of conversation over the course of this semester. The naysayers who have discredited the experiences of people who have been and are presently marginalized have done so in a manner that is prevalent in our current society. It is unfortunate that the loudest voices you hear in our society are those of the cruel tea-partiers and conservative politicians, who look for every way to take away basic human rights in the form of budget cutting and privatization.

But even more disturbing is the number of people who are silent and can only find the courage to voice their opinions anonymously. As rapper David Banner states, "We are livin' in a day and time, where we stand for nothing, fall for anything, and everything we say is fine."

We must look beyond our socialized "realities." A purpose in life worth dying for is one that examines what we do not know. And once we find it, we should feel obligated to take it into consideration rather than to disregard it. I acknowledge that this is much easier said than done.

Our segregated and unequal society has separated us from both the knowledge and experience needed to understand its complex construction and its impact on people. It has also removed any sense of community, so that people coming together for the common cause of justice is an exception and not the norm.

Our campus climate reflects our need for the life purpose that our society strips from us when we are born into our unjust system. But if we can expose injustice, fight it and stand for something different and something new, then our purpose can finally manifest itself.

Danny Pforte is a sophomore who is inspired by the need for change.

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