Columns, Opinions

Kumar ’17: Leaving Brown, and hate, behind

By
Staff Columnist
Wednesday, April 26, 2017

With Commencement just 31 days away, many of my fellow seniors find themselves in the throes of a full-blown existential crisis. Last September, I wrote myself “A pep talk for senior year,” in which I found cause for optimism despite “a general sense that the world into which we were born is dissolving and morphing into something new and terrifying.” Nearly eight months later, the global political landscape has changed dramatically, but the tension between hope and despair feels more palpable than ever. How can we react to the challenges assaulting us from every direction without yielding to negativity?

The first possible reaction is fear. Still unsure of my post-graduation plans, it would be dishonest of me not to admit to feeling an occasional twinge of crippling anxiety over my uncertain future. Perhaps I will have to move in with my parents due to a sluggish job market; perhaps my professional career won’t reach the heights of my academic career. This personal fear is magnified by political upheaval around the world. Will North Korea instigate a devastating nuclear war? What does the future of Russo-American relations hold? Will we remain powerless to save innocent civilians in Syria or persecuted gay men in Chechnya? If you only read the news, the world can feel very scary indeed.

But there’s no point in succumbing to fear — it’s the least productive of reactions and no fun whatsoever. We’re talking about our lives, after all, and we have to battle to make them as fruitful and secure as possible. The second reaction, then, is anger: indignation at a federal government that threatens to undermine the success of science and medicine, fields that have worked magic for the quality and quantity of life; rage at the terrorism that continues to leave many stricken with fear and the armed conflict that destroys families and societies; disgust with political leaders incapable of putting aside their party loyalties for the greater good.

Anger is useful when it can be channeled to productive ends, as it was during last Saturday’s March for Science. But it’s important not to misdirect this anger toward scapegoats like immigrants, people of color and religious minorities. We should throw our righteous indignation at the decision makers, not at marginalized people who bear the brunt of their damaging policies and rhetoric. Nor should we automatically hold those on the opposite side of the political spectrum in contempt. When anger slips to hate of the other, we become uglier as individuals and as a society.

Last week, a French police officer, Xavier Jugelé, was shot dead while on duty on the Champs-Élysées. The Islamic State quickly claimed responsibility for the attack, in which two other police officers were injured. On Tuesday, Jugelé’s partner, Etienne Cardiles, delivered a moving tribute during a ceremony attended by French President François Hollande and presidential candidates Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen. Amid personal memories of Jugelé and remarks on the indispensability of police officers to democratic society, Cardiles spoke unwaveringly (in French) about rejecting hate: “This hate, Xavier, I don’t have it … because the general interest, the service of others and the protection of all were part of your upbringing and your convictions, and because tolerance, dialogue and temperance were your greatest weapons.” In Jugelé’s life — as in Cardiles’, too, despite his grief — there was no room for hate. He was too preoccupied with the hard work of serving others to consider despising them.

Indeed, service is a far better reaction to today’s challenges than hate. Whereas the latter can only be destructive, the former is always creative. By identifying what we can do best to help others, we can mend the rifts that divide us and enrich our own lives. At Brown, this spirit of service is everywhere, from the staff members who keep our facilities clean and safe to the faculty members and administrators who have stepped up in recent months to defend the future of higher education. And of course, this spirit is best embodied in the students, be they entrepreneurs or social justice advocates, artists or scientists. The work that the Brown community performs every day in the service of others is the very opposite of the hate that Cardiles so eloquently rejected. It is love in action. With the strength of this love, the only logical reaction can be hope. Stronger than fear or anger, this hope is powerful enough to eclipse hate altogether.

Negativity is such a weighty burden. Fear is crippling. Unchecked anger is blinding. Hate is suffocating. When I pass through the Van Wickle Gates on May 28, I intend to shed that weight — for a lighter, brighter future.

Nikhil Kumar ’17 can be reached at nikhil_kumar@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.