This week in Nerd News, a Thomas Jefferson reenactor performed a two hour lecture at the nearby community college, and Aaron and I were first in line. Well, not exactly first in line, but we bought tickets in advance and showed up on time, which shows a lot of enthusiasm and commitment on our end.
Clay Jenkinson is a humanities scholar who is so incredibly familiar with the historical life of Thomas Jeffereson that he puts on a wig and tights to give presentations as though he’s the third POTUS, himself. He also hosts a weekly show on NPR called “The Jefferson Hour,” where he covers modern topics while role playing as Thomas Jefferson, talking about things in the manner Jefferson would view them if he were still alive today.
The second half of the show, Jenkinson speaks as himself– no longer Jefferson– and backs up why he thinks Jefferson would hold the viewpoint he just shared with the audience. Jenkinson makes it clear that he does not agree with everything he says as Jefferson, but does his best to be as authentic as possible in what he believes Jefferson would truly say.
I don’t even like history (I know, I’m a terrible citizen), and I find this whole Jefferson reenactment extremely interesting. I mean, wouldn’t we all like to know how the Founding Fathers would respond to our modern day political and cultural issues? I know I would.
During the performance, I found myself agreeing with much of the Jeffersonian ideals. Definitely not all, but I was certainly taken by his firm belief in a small government and the power of the people, not the arch nemesis Hamiltonian belief that citizens should give their voting rights to intellectual thinkers to do the decision-making for them. Then again, it’d be nice if voting citizens…i.e. everyone 18+ these days…did some intellectual thinking for themselves, but I agree with Jefferson’s stance that we can’t pick and choose who is allowed to vote in a Republic. No matter how uneducated or easily swayed certain voters may be.
Anyhoo, much of the impassioned clapping from the audience to show their support for certain Jeffersonian opinions of the 2016 presidential race and plight of the modern two party system was far too, well, political for my taste…I cringe during any sort of political banter because I get worked up about my beliefs, as do most people, and therefore choose to sit out of any sort of debate. I was at the show of one of the United States’ most famous and controversial political figures in the country’s history, however, so I guess things were bound to get a bit political. Still, that is not what I focused on as I left the theatre, and certainly not what I’ll write about here. I’d like to keep all my readers, pleaseandthankyou.
What I do want to talk about in regards to the Jefferson performance was his (Jefferson’s, not Jenkinson’s) steadfast belief that people are born “good.” My thoughts immediately went to a religious and spiritual place, bouncing back and forth between whether we are born pure or born sinners. I find this to be one of the many confusing parts of the Bible, and that’s okay. (Hey! Guess what?! It’s OKAY to feel confused about the Bible sometimes. That doesn’t mean you can’t put your faith in it…it just means you admit to not understanding every little thing. Understanding the big picture is much more important, anyway. Clearly, this topic of Biblical contradiction and confusion may need to be its own blog post someday.)
I believe we are born in God’s perfect image, and that God didn’t bring us onto the earth just to condemn us for the sins of people who lived thousands of years ago. In that sense, I believe we’re all born “good.” On the other hand, I believe that every single person falls short of the glory of God, and inevitably falls into the trap of selfish, harmful, and sinful desires that we know to be wrong, but appease anyway for momentary pleasure. In that case, we’re born sinners…because it’s bound to happen.
All of that being said, I don’t want to focus on my spiritual thoughts on this topic of being “born good” or “born bad” because I hope to reach anyone and everyone who reads this blog– religious beliefs aside. So without the direct consideration of religion, though it always influences my opinions, let me declare this: I think mankind is inherently good.
The terrible attacks on Istanbul and Brussels have led to the ever-common wave of statuses on Facebook that say “We live in a terrible world,” and “People in this world are sick.” Even before I listened to Jefferson’s heartfelt statement about the innate goodness of individuals, I wanted to write a blog stating that I feel the same way. Despite the terror, despite the bullying of our young people, despite the ever expanding gap between people’s political and social opinions, the world is full of mostly wonderful people.
I truly believe that evil is bred through environment. Yes, we all naturally get pulled towards not-so-great temptations at times, but in general, we know right from wrong and want to do what’s right. Family, societal, religious, and falsely pleasurable pressures can easily lead us astray. Pride can easily lead us astray. Pain and hurt can easily lead us astray. Desperation for basic necessities can easily lead us astray. But we, in our blank slate as a species, are a loving, communal, and moralistic breed.
Hey, even on a dirty slate, I find most people to be loving, communal and moralistic. That’s even better!
Almost never have I encountered a person who is mean, outright. Ask anyone nicely for directions, and they’ll give them to you. Try to strike up conversation, and most everyone is at least somewhat receptive, especially if you don’t do it a creepy or socially awkward way. I interact with strangers pretty much daily, and I’m very rarely left with a sour taste in my mouth…and when I am, I’m acutely and purposefully aware that their negative attitude probably had nothing to do with me, and everything to do with something they were taught, a previous experience they had with someone else, or a lack of coffee.
We certainly don’t live in a perfect world, and there’s no doubt that this climate of random violence is terrifying, but I urge everyone to maintain their optimism about our fellow humans. Obviously, we can’t help but feel full weight of anger and sadness about the horrific acts by those whose morals and goodness have been squashed to a place of no return, but we can’t let that change how we see every person we meet. We can’t assume the worst, because then evil is winning. We must expect the most from others, give the benefit of the doubt, and create a domino effect of love and kindness. People rise to expectations. The more we treat others as though we expect them to be bad, the more they will be.
This is what I like to call the Kitchen Sink Philosophy. If I see dirty dishes in the sink, I’m far more likely to leave my dirty dish in the sink, as well, because it blends in. If the sink is completely empty, I feel way more guilty about leaving my dirty dish in it, because it stands out, so it’s obvious that I didn’t do the right thing. Apply that same concept to life! If we expect others to be good, constantly keeping the kitchen sink clean of preconceived notions and poor behavior, then more people will keep the sink clean, as well. The more we accuse humankind of evil, the more likely people are to dirty up the sink. It’s dirty anyway, right?
If the Kitchen Sink Philosophy is a bit difficult to sink your teeth into, try this one: When everyone else is rudely talking during a presentation, you’re more likely to join the babble, as well. When everyone is sitting quietly and taking notes, you probably follow in line. Therefore, BE GOOD, and act as though everyone else is OF COURSE going to be good, too. I strongly believe that if all people who have kept an ounce of goodness by adulthood approached the world in this manner, the domino effect could change the course of our species’ future.
Be positive. Give the benefit of the doubt. Forgive. Be the best and expect the best. Don’t dwell on evil, instead dwell on the wonderful acts of countless kind people on this earth. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye to evil, but we can NOT lose hope or faith in the world around us. If we do, we have already lost.