It was 11th grade English with Mr. Turner at Mamaroneck High School. He was fond of summarizing great works of literature with a single phrase. And for Macbeth his line was simple: "Anticipation is greater than realization." He argued strongly that we invest so much in our goals and dreams that even when we completely achieve them we are inevitably disappointed because "anticipation is greater than realization." Mr. Turner did not view this as a bad thing, for if we did not look for the big things ahead we would not be motivated sufficiently to take the actions to move us forward even to the lesser achievements we eventually do accomplish. But he also warned us that if we allowed ourselves to be disappointed by what we actually achieved, then we would find nothing satisfactory enough, that our accomplishments would sour on us, and eventually we would stop trying, because since we never fully realized the fullness of our wildest dreams, the perpetual disappointment could sour us on life.
I have recently been very much reminded of that teaching as I observe the political processes, especially as we explore them here. And I have finally come to the conclusion that Mr. Turner was at best partly right.
Perhaps it is a function of living into one's seventh decade that tends to temper one's enthusiasm on one hand, while at the same time keeping one from being too disappointed. I am neither so sanguine about the fullness of possibilities because I see how many good opportunities people find a way of squandering, nor am I so disenchanted by the repeated opportunities lost as to completely give up hope. I was kidding with a friend last night who is even more follicly challenged than am I. John says he no longer goes to the barbershop for a hair cut, but only for a hair count. I responded that I tell my students I don't worry about a bad hair day, I am merely greatful that it is a still has hair day. But I also don't want my experience to be so deadening that I don't bother to take care of things, whether my hair or my political rights, that I fail to act when making a difference is still possible.
Twentyfour hours from now I will already be at Reagan National Airport awaiting the first of the two flights which will take me to Houston for my third national bloggers conference, now entitled Netroots Nation. Were I easily disappointed, I would already be of a mindset that it will be a fruitless trip. My major activity is to be a panel on politically active young people, schedule for 10:30 on Friday. With the announcement yesterday that former Governor Don Siegelman has been added to the agenda to speak at precisely that time, thereby potentially seriously diminishing the pool of people from which we will pull from our attendees, I might very well have cause for disappointment. I do not. Nor do I think that the experience of those who participate on the panel or attend to hear what they have to say is necessarily going to be the high point of the conference, even for those of us who present. Oh, for my three teenagers, it will be the first time they present at a national conference full of adults. And having heard that CNN is supposed to tape our session, there is a certain amount of excitement (which I hope is not totally eradicated should the network decide to move the camera crew to Siegleman instead). We come to that session not expecting to totally change the world, but still to have some small piece of impact.
Think of it as water. One can clearly recognize the immediate impact of a tsunami, or a flash flood with a sudden thunderstorm or if a dam or levee should be breached. For most of us, we are exceedingly unlikely by ourselves or our own actions ever to have such immediate impact. But what if we see ourselves as among the drops of a small but persistent stream? Cannot we recognize that eventually the rock over which we flow will be eroded, perhaps creating a great chasm, a Grand Canyon? Or if that is too great a vision, understanding that even a few drops persistently dribbled onto the skull of a person can eventually drive that person insane? The power of water, not in the individual drops, but as the part of something much larger.
It is hard to dream like that, to gear one's efforts towards goals one might not live to see. And yet that is often the greatest motivation. I am not a parent, but I do live directly with the responsibility for young people, because I teach. I may have long since passed from the scene before the full impact of my attempting to widen and deepen the possibilities for those students ever comes to pass. While it is exciting to see the look of recognition when a student finally understands something that has stymied her, that short-term achievement would be too small a dream, even as it is an important part of motivating the student to persist, to continue to strive even when things do not easily happen.
The primary purpose of this website has been to elect Democrats. Beyond that, we are hoping to increase the percentage of Democrats who have a more progressive vision for our party and our nation. We do not always agree among ourselves about the candidates, office holders, party officials, and policies that are part of those goals. We will disagree about tactics and strategy, short term and long-term methods of attempting to achieve final goals upon which at best we have general agreement, but upon whose details we often vociferously disagree. We might write diaries in the hope that we will have the one great insight that will strike others and thus help enable a major victory. I would suggest that if such is one's goal, one will be disappointed. We may not have any such grandious ideas of the impact of our writing, but still invest blood, sweat and tears in to creating what we believe is something of value, something wrung from our very cores, only to see the diary slide into oblivion. And then we are likely to experience some level of disappointment or even worse. And yet - perhaps a single lurker may have been motivated into action by our words. Or perhaps someone has had her eyes opened and begun to see things in a way previously inaccessible for her. We don't always know the impact of the words we offer, of the actions upon which we embark. Think for a moment of the recent television advertisement that is a series of persons each of whom sees someone else do "the right thing" to help others and then themselves acts in a similar fashion, only to be seen by another who themselves acts in a similar fashion. . . each of these being a single drop eroding the rock of not caring about others. . .
I acknowledge that I am as prone as anyone here to disappointment and frustration. I have in the past written about how I have for much of my life lived and wrestled with depression. For better or worse I have chosen to offer words that explore my fears about the future, my sense of anger and disillusion at what I see happening in our political sphere, and of the increasing difficulties I encounter of teaching honestly about a governmental system which seems to be disappearing. And yet I persist. Why? I am no longer motivated by what I will achieve for myself: at 62 I know I will never play major league baseball - that has been clear since my one season of organized baseball, Babe Ruth League, the summer I was 15. For all my fascination with politics and how it has the possibility lof changing things for better or worse, I will not now begin a career of seeking and achieving elective office for myself. And because of other decisions I have made it is unlikely that I will ever be so wealthy as to be able to use that monetary accumulation as a means of influencing others or of empowering others for whom a gift or stipend could enable them to do meaningful work they could otherwise not afford to do.
But I have come to realize that I can still make a difference. And the small victories I do encounter, either in my own life or in the lives of those I assist by teaching or writing or political participation, are themselves drops contributing to the stream of water that can eventually wear away even the strongest rock.
I have no idea of the impact of our getting together in Austin, nor do I know as yet the longterm effect of our having organized and worked on behalf of Democrats progressive and conservative in changing the direction of our nation and our politics. I can dream big things, and find that we have moved only partly in that direction. I look at this cycle: Obama was my fifth choice as a presidential standard bearer for our party. I strongly disagree with him on things that matter greatly to me, for example, on parts of his approach to schools and education, although had I been at the NEA convention I would not have been among those who booed. But I see his putative nomination as an important step moving us forward. Our party is willing to nominate someone with a funny name, who was raised in part overseas, whose color is different than anyone ever previously nominated, who is willing to try do some things in a different way, and yet who is enough of a practical politician to recognize that sometimes one can and should challenge conventional wisdom forcefully while other times it is important to take what gains that are possible and not to fight every battle as if it will be the final battle, life or death: while I may myself be a bit of an adrenaline junkie, I know that our society cannot constantly be under the stress of radical change, that people need time to adjust.
Martin Luther King told us
have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
We may have strong disagreement with some of what Obama says and does, but certainly while, like King, we are not YET at the point where our society is colorblind in the manner of which he dreamed, the mere fact that Obama is our putative nominee and the likely next president should be an indication that we have advanced on that dream. Mr. Turner might point out that that the anticipation of such a day has already been tempered: for some African-Americans it has been the necessity of wrestling with the idea that the first Black president will not be a product of the struggle from slavery through the civil rights movement, although anyone of color still experiences some elements of the heritage of racism and discrimination that have - excused this expression - all to often colored how most of us perceive and live in an increasingly diverse society.
I phrased my title as as question, not as the statement with which we were presented in English that junior year of 1961-62. And I said that I had found Mr. Turner to be only partly right. Anticipation should be greater than realization in this way - we should always anticipate that even more is possible. That way we are never satisfied. Yes, I know. I once posted a diary entitled "Es ist Genug." And I do not disavow that, because when we achieve only partially that about which we dreamed, and for which we strove, rather than it being a source of disappointment, we should rejoice in having moved along the path towards some "ultimate" goal, especially insofar as that goal continues to motivate and inspire.
Tomorrow I will travel to Austin. I will again be with people I know and care about. I will meet and encounter some whom I have known only electronically. I will feel the frustration of the conflicts of time, of being unable to catch up with all I would want to see, or to attend all the panels that interest me. I could view that as a source of disappointment. Or I can choose to rejoice in the range of possibilities presented to me by 4+ days in Austin, among more than a thousand others who seek to make a difference, to find common ground, who dream of what may yet be.
Martin also told us that he might not get to the promised land. Yet that never stopped him from trying. Nor should what we experience as incompleteness or even failure ever serve to discourage us. It should instead remind us that we still have work that we can and should do.
"Master, what do we do here in the deserts?"
"We fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up, we fall, we pick ourselves up."
Because I can dream, I anticipate possibilities I may not be able to achieve. But, Mr. Turner, that does not make the anticipation greater than the realization. The anticipation is what enables me to change, to participate with others in improving the world of which I am a part. The realization is not disappointing - it is merely a point of reflection, one that could be limited to how far we still have to go, but could also remind us of the amazing distance we have already traveled.
This is what was on my mind today. What is on yours?