Today is my thirtieth birthday. So I wanted to write a bit about who I am and what I’ve learned. Looking back at all the people, events and experiences in my life that shaped me, there are a few that stick out. I’d like to write about those.
The most influential and inspiring person in my life has definitely been my wife Emilia. We’ve been married eight years and every day with her continues to be better than I deserve. She has shown me strength and courage through difficult times. She lives by the convictions she espouses and teaches our daughters the same. She encourages me, corrects my faults and loves unconditionally. If there’s anything good in me, anything honest or just, it’s because of Emilia.
The most important and impactful experience has been becoming a father. I have three daughters; Lea, Ava and Ella who are 6, 4 and 1 respectively. I have no greater privilege in this life than to watch my girls grow, learn and become wonderfully confident people. They are the greatest gifts that I’ll be leaving on this planet when I’m gone and I couldn’t be more proud of them. They’ve changed my life and helped me to understand its meaning. I’ll forever be grateful for their profound impact on me.
Fatherhood often makes me think of my own dad and who he’s been to me. My dad leaving us—although painful—has taught me some hard bitter truths about life. I have a lot of good memories with my father as well, and even though everything changed after he left, I’m still very thankful for his role in my life. I don’t know if I’ll ever hear or see him again or if we’d have anything to talk about if so. But for all the hurt its brought my family and I, I’ve forgiven it and love him very much.
There are many books and authors who shaped my beliefs and convictions. People who were gracious enough to articulate their thoughts and ideas in writing that challenged and forced me to justify my beliefs. There are many I could credit, many that have forged my world view. But none have changed more my thoughts on power, justice and freedom than the writings of Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky and Thomas Paine.
Howard Zinn brought to light the voice of the voiceless, the powerless and disenfranchised. Those who’s stories are not told in traditional history. He taught me to understand the struggles of those who came before me and the fights they waged for the rights and privileges that I take for granted now. Shays’ Rebellion, Ludlow Massacre, Helderberg War, Lowell Mill Girls, Socialist Labor Party, Freedom Riders, Civil Rights Movement and many more, all social movements and events that shaped the course of history for workers, women, black people and human rights in America. Howard Zinn’s writing on war and non-violence movements has instilled in me a deep animosity for violence and blind nationalism.
“When people don’t understand that the government doesn’t have their interests in mind, they’re more susceptible to go to war.”
Noam Chomsky raised my consciousness to the power and hope of social organization. I would not be an Anarcho-syndicalist if not for Noam. He’s shed light on the political environment that I had never recognized before. Where Howard Zinn showed me the power of social movements in the past, Noam gave me hope for where continued grassroot movements can take us. He taught me that power and authority is not self justifying. He’s also exposed the failures of state power on even the most elementary of moral principles, such as Immanuel Kant’s principle of universality. In fact, we should apply even more stringently the moral principles we expect other states to adhere to, because we actually have power to change ours.
“Everyone’s worried about stopping terrorism. Well, there’s really an easy way: Stop participating in it.”
Paine was a revolutionist in every sense of the word. He’s shown me how revolutionary—even idealistic—ideas expressed through writing can change the course of history. As John Adams said: “Without the pen of the author of Common Sense, the sword of Washington would have been raised in vain.” His writings (“Common Sense” and “The American Crisis”) influenced a population to reject monarchy in a demand for independence. Paine’s beliefs of human rights and his contempt of slavery were ahead of his time as well. “The Age of Reason” made the case for deism where he also argued against institutionalized religion and Christian theology (which he was ostracized for). He showed me how important free rational inquiry is when examining theology and religion, no matter the cost.
“I have always strenuously supported the right of every man to his own opinion, however different that opinion might be to mine. He who denies to another this right, makes a slave of himself to his present opinion, because he precludes himself the right of changing it.”
—Thomas Paine, The Age of Reason
Lastly and probably the most profound realization, is that I’m not special. I’ve lived thirty years seeing the world through my eyes, and that’s the only viewpoint that I can give. I am one of 7.4 billion people on this pale blue dot suspended in nothingness. Revolving around a star that is only 1 of 100 billion in our 13.21 billion year old galaxy. A galaxy that is, to our best estimate, 1 of another 100 billion in our observable universe. My place in this universe is—like everyone else—insignificant.
This humbling truth isn’t disheartening though; it’s what I take refuge in. It’s what helps me not worry about the unimportant things that might cause me stress otherwise. It helps me value so much more each interaction I have with others and their experiences. It means that no one person is more or less important than another. It means we’re in this together and we have the privilege of being this brief glimpse of consciousness in this massive universe together. Lets not squander it.