When I interned in various political offices while in college, my supervisors, of whom I am very fond, would often view my idealism with no small amount of bemusement. I made no bones about the fact that I believe our world is an unjust and impoverished one, but that it is constantly getting better, and that we have a duty to leave behind a better world than the one we inherit. My supervisors tended to, understandably, view this as the untested idealism of a young woman eager to take on the world.
I believe the three most powerful and sometimes intertwining forces in our world are (in no particular order) the want of money, power, and love. To ignore the first two would likely produce the kind of innocent idealism some people have seen in me. But I do see the horrors of America, from young kids pulled into gangs on the streets of L.A. to laid-off workers in rural Kentucky, and beyond our shores, to the starving, sick, enslaved, tortured peoples that exist in every corner of the world. I recognize that the deeply human desire for money and power wrecks a terrible tragedy on our fellow humans across the globe.
But I also see the beautiful good spread by our unbelievable capacity to love. There is the journalist who braved the gunfire of Afghanistan to tell the story of young girls who had acid flung in their faces as they tried to get to school and the Americans who sent his newspaper money for whatever those girls needed (a school bus, it turns out), a former gang member reaching into the bowels of Harlem and lifting kids there up through college, and a young man who escaped the terror of genocide in Darfur, then returned to create a school that would give hope to hundreds of kids.
I have worked with survivors of human trafficking and domestic violence, seeing firsthand the unimaginable cruelty we humans manage to inflict on each other. I am not ignoring cruelty or hatred or intolerance or destruction. I deal with the world on its terms as it is today, not on how I wish it would be. But just because I accept that there are plentiful horrors does not mean I cannot maintain my fundamental faith in human progress, a faith inspired by the stories of human goodness I find everywhere.
Those who admired my idealism but thought it would shatter upon impact with the real world made the mistake of thinking such idealism stemmed from experiences only with the power of love. That is not the case. I have seen the good, and I have seen the bad, and I have concluded that the world is generally better today than it used to be and that it continues to get better still. It is wildly irresponsible to develop one’s beliefs about the world while ignoring money and power, but it is equally irresponsible to ignore our undeniable capacity to love.
It is the distribution of these three things (money, power, love) that shape our world. Economics is the distribution of money, politics the distribution of power, and love – or lack thereof, as the case may be – hovers over both of these, informing their execution. Over the past year, working with AmeriCorps, I have seen the injustice created by politics and the poverty created by economics. At BU Law, I am learning the rules by which economics and politics (I mean politics as in the execution of policy and law, not as in the Democrat-Republican back-and-forth) operate. When I graduate, I will be able to apply those rules in the real world, and eventually, change those rules. And I firmly believe those rules can be changed.
To be clear, I labor under no delusions that poverty can be easily eradicated or that we can shine a light on countries under the darkness of tyranny just because we want it very much. I do not think we can simply get the money out of American politics nor do I believe the irresistible pull of the powerful towards corruption can be stopped. But what I know is that every time the world has changed, and it has changed, it has done so because someone, somewhere, thought it could. That someone was joined by another someone, and another, and another, until enough people were tipped out of the tyrannical comfort of cynicism. Together, they made the world just a little more just, a little more equal, a little more free.
So can we.