The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, January 25, 2008

What Would You Be Willing to Die for?

Reading political commentaries is something I’ve only really done for the last four years or so. During this election cycle, I’ve come across dozens of women quoted as being eager for “a woman in the White House” but have yet (to my recollection) come across a quote by a black person about being eager for a “black in the White House” even if they’re voting for Obama. I can think of a couple of basic reasons:
1) They don’t consider his ethnicity a factor in their preference.
2) They don’t feel safe saying it—they know it would doom his chances if he is labeled as the “black candidate.” (Incidentally-I think this part of the Clinton strategy: to let him win South Carolina by a landslide among blacks, and thereby los his trans-racial status. Nasty. Smart.)

I think it’s the second. Whether this can be interpreted as any kind of statement about the relative power of women versus blacks is left to the reader.
Michelle said that I can’t ask people to imagine what they would want if “I knew they could not fail” and then qualify it. I didn’t. I just dealt with the dreams as they came up.
I could have said: "goals that have been achieved by others" but that wouldn't open the floodgates of imagination. I'm sure there are airline pilots inspired by the dream of being Superman. Physicists inspired by the dream of FTL travel. Doctors inspired by the dream of healing all mankind. We must dream. And then we can take that inspiration and use it to power our lives.
It is my belief that the way to align our lives for greatest success is to have our minds, our hearts, and our bodies all going in the same direction. That is, we should have maximum physical energy, open and excited emotions, and clear goals in alignment with our values. At this point, we’re not fighting ourselves.

Too damned often, we limit ourselves because we’ve been told we can’t have our dreams. I couldn’t begin to tell you how many times I heard this growing up: from my mother, my friends, my community. I had no role models of my ethnicity, and was told point-blank by teachers and authority figures that I couldn’t do it. But I clung to my dream, burned my bridges behind me, and powered forward. What would I aspire to if I knew I could not fail?
1) Be the best, and best-selling writer in the history of the world.
2) Be the greatest martial artist who ever lived.
3) Inspire everyone around me, and ultimately the entire world, to a joyous epiphany and acceptance of their inner divinity.

That’s what I’d do. So…how does that translate into my actual actions? I am prepared to do the best I can with what I have in the time I have. That’s it. Every single day, without fail, I work on my writing, on the unity of breath and motion, and tell the people I love that I love them. Every single day. Without fail.
Here’s a corollary question: What would you be willing to die for?


Anonymous said...

"What would you be willing to die for?" Next question--what would you be willing to kill for (or kill against!) Further question(s)--what would you be willing to convince others to die for, and to kill for? (These thoughts prompted by the current fighting, both in Afghanistan/Iraq and in the primaries...)

Dan Moran said...

Whatever you're doing with your life is what you're dying for ...

Rory said...

I thought, long ago, that there were a very few people who I loved very much that I would lay everything on the line to protect. In actual practice it turns out I will do it for people I don't like who aren't even good for society.

That's kind of funny.

And read what Dan wrote. We are all in the process of dying. Die well.

AF1 said...

Obama has to be careful. He needs to refocus the political conversation onto his views and ideas, and how they might contrast with Hillary's.

Letting the Clintons get away with turning the campaign into a "blacks will vote for a black, whites must vote for a white" type of deal will only end with him getting beat.

Kai Jones said...

I was unable, yesterday, to think of something that fear of failure was keeping me from doing, but the experiment showed me that it isn't fear of failure that stops me. It's fear of losing what I already have, that I worked to hard to get--and I'm not referring to things in the physical world here.

Mike Ralls said...

My family. My ideals.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

My feeling is that if Clinton leans too hard on "whites should vote for a white while blacks are voting for a black", she'll disgust a lot of her base, so she's up against a very subtle campaigning challenge.

She's got a few advantages that don't involve playing to race: she's seen as experienced and very smart, she's a woman, there's been a hate campaign against her which has pissed off a lot of Democrats.[1] All this might well be enough for her to win anyway.

I'm still chewing on the "if you knew you couldn't fail" question. The thing that comes to mind is do original mathematics and get it published. I'm not at all clear about how much of my general problems are fear of failure, though it's probably worth my while to look at relationship stuff from that angle. Poking at it a little harder, it might be fear of disaster rather than fear of failure.

As for people in general, I think there are challenges people take on because failure is a possibility.

[1] If the actual effect of Hillary-bashing is to hand the presidency to a black man, I'm going to be laughing for days. Some karma is very entertaining to watch.

This doesn't mean I think Obama is unqualified, just that it took some extreme mistakes on the right to give him a good chance.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Second thought on success: I think there are parts of my life where my assumption of failure is so strong that I need to start with thinking that I could succeed at all.

Marty S said...

This is an interesting follow up to the what would you do if you couldn't fail. In seems to me that nobody myself included seemed interested in solving the all worlds problems. The closest was pagan-topologist making the world a greener place. If we wouldn't set out to save the world if we could save it why would we be willing to die to save the world or for any idea.

Mar said...

"What would you be willing to die for?" I might know it when I die for it, but I agree with Dan that it's what I'm doing now, just living. That means I had better make it good. I cannot accept that we are just dying: we are living. Too many friends have passed away or are in the process of being killed by cancer, but they are/were not dying, the are/were living, and I believe that has to be cherished until we are stone cold dead.

I think that I am eager for a “black in the White House”. I am also eager for a eager for a “woman in the White House”. I tend to like what John Edwards says, I like him a lot, but I do not get the visceral charge about him that I get from Clinton or Obama, and it does have to do with race and gender.

As far as Obama vs. Clinton brickbats? I'm glad he is getting a good going over now, because he has a better than even chance at being the nominee for president and likely could be veep if that doesn't work out. If he gets an easy go of it in the primaries, he will be slaughtered in real campaign. I am sure that SwiftBoat Kiley is working up some set of lies to put out about Obama. He has done a great job about both Clintons (I know people who truly believe that they had Vince Foster murdered). Obama needs to be prepared, and the Clinton campaign is part of that readiness training.

The Clintons play true hardball. Not the whiffle variety promoted by the media and Chris Matthews. What Hillary does looks to me like what women who are successful in grad school do, go for the jugular. Even her demeanor reminds me of women in academia who are successful -- not the door mats that make it as a token and shut up at faculty meetings, teach the crap classes, and get paid 45% of their male counterpart (unless he's black or native American since they get about 65% of what the white male counterpart gets).
Clinton and Obama probably will split the SC black vote, and Clinton and Edwards will split the white vote. Clinton may come out on top. Every time I hear Obama complain about something the Clintons have done, however, I cringe. I want him to absorb the blows and keep going. He should be able to deliver a few body blows to her himself. The complaints make him sound limp. I want him strong, and ready to fight for me.

I would like to hear more about what Obama believes, and the vision he has for his presidency and how he intends to accomplish these things. I'd like to hear/read that from all of them. I have been on Obama's website, Clinton's, Edwards', and Paul's, so I do have an idea of what is said. I also read info from sites like

I'd like to hear Obama come out against the Patriot Act, which he voted for the first time around, and for reauthorization. I'd like to hear him talk about bringing industry back to the USA, and giving tax breaks to American companies instead of foreign companies. This is probably the 10% of Ron Paul that I like.

My fear is that he will get crap-level advisers like Jimmy Carter had, and his administration will be a huge mess. Both of Clinton's administrations were messy (of course he had help from the republicans). If someone more charismatic than Bob Dole had been running against him in 1996, Clinton would have been a one-term president.

Re your aspirations: Thank God that you did burn your bridges. I can't imagine you as a timorous person.

Brian Dunbar said...

What would you be willing to die for?

My family.
Other people's children.

In the past I was willing to die for people I served with in the Marines ... and I suppose you could say I was willing to die for my country. I never thought of it that way at the time.

Marty S said...

Your comment really makes a lot of sense. Right now Obama scares the hell out of me. I wish he would set out some of his programs to accomplish the vision he keeps making rousing speeches about. If they made sense then maybe I wouldn't be so scared. I heard one speech on CNN by Obama and it was rhetoric without a concrete program. Then CNN followed with A Rudy speech it was very concrete. His proposal to help people with medical insurance by giving a $15000 tax deduction didn't make much sense since most of the people who need help don't pay enough taxes to benefit, but I at least give him points for putting a set of concrete proposals out there.

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