The Race Between Education and Catastrophe

Originally published in the RE: Boston edition of The Roundtable, a student-run publication at Wellesley University, on April 20, 2013. 

Throughout history, humans have endeavored to educate ourselves about the issues that define us. From the recent MIT shooting to the Boston terror bombings, we strive to gather information about events that could impact us, have caused others injury or could spark debate.

Thousands gather for a vigil to remember those lost in the Boston terror bombings. (CNN Connecticut)

In The Outline of History, H.G. Wells states that “human history [is]…a race between education and catastrophe.” Though this statement has many implications, all of which provide a profound message about the nature of society today, I prefer to keep it simple. Now, more than ever, we must put in the effort to learn from each other, to grow toward a mutual cooperation to create positive change. We must try to learn, not just to prevent catastrophes, but to learn better how to react to them.

Novelist John Green wrote, “Literacy is vital, but literacy is not the finish line.” It is not enough to possess knowledge – it must be employed, expanded upon and shared. His web-based YouTube history program CrashCourse is Green’s way of doing this; it is an accessible platform with which to distribute educational resources, communicate and unite.

As we strive forward, making scientific discoveries and technological innovations, we must remember that failing to appreciate the basics will get us nowhere. Too often we regard concepts as too complex, and then not complex enough.

It seems that children are always better than adults at keeping things uncomplicated. Henry, John Green’s son, was in a recent episode of Green’s web show where, in the midst of discussing a protest at a military funeral, Henry asked, “Can’t people just be nice?”

It took a 3-year-old to ask what should be obvious to us all, but we get caught up in semantics and intricacies that don’t need to exist. In reality, Henry was spot on. If people took the time to try to understand the perspective of their peers, we would face far less discrimination and misunderstanding.

And there you have it. Easy, right?

I work to break down my own ignorance by focusing on gendered language. I have worked with others to become educated about transgender terminology and within my day-to-day life, I implement what I’ve learned. I endeavor to share what I know in the hope of eliminating the current stigma against this community.

The race between education and catastrophe is not so much a race between either knowledge or destruction, but the opportunity for growth between people. Following the example of innocents like Henry, our first step towards solving any problem is defining it. Only by becoming aware of an issue can understanding can we create change.

Even if we cannot change the outcome of an event, we can alter how we respond.

Too often, I hear of traumas like the MIT shooting or the Boston terror bombings and only research the culprit, or who died. I forget to investigate whatever small amounts of good came from the situation. Because in the midst of trauma, they just aren’t as interesting. But we need to make them the focal point.

So, as we educate ourselves about the many horrors that happen around the world each and every day, we must remember to concentrate on the positive: the stories of hope, of love and of mutual understanding. We must recognize the biased lens of the media and look a little deeper.

“Yet, clumsily or smoothly, the world, it seems, progresses and will progress,” Wells wrote. With open-mindedness and communication, this progress will march on. As simple-minded as it sounds, perhaps then, people will just be nice.

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