In America, the active ingredient is us

We are not just victims of circumstance, Charlyne Berens writes.


Talk about a victim mentality! 2020 brought us plenty of reasons to think of ourselves in the passive voice, as people to whom things happen rather than as people who make things happen.

Resist the temptation. We are not helpless objects whose fate is determined only by what happens to us. We are still actors, able to shape our world and the world. Not only can we do it; we must do it.

We can all recite the list of evils visited on our world in the past 12 months. The physical, mental and social ravages of a pandemic. The searing cries for social justice in the wake of demonstrated and horrific injustice. The machinations of a political class, many of whom seem to have forgotten democracy’s rules and norms.

Poor us! Why has all this been visited upon us?

To an extent, we all must take responsibility for these disasters. Even though our contributions may have been small and incremental, we can’t ignore our active – or passive – roles in the situation.

But that’s just the point. We did have a role. We do have a role. And we can choose to use our agency for good if we so desire. We are not just victims of circumstance. We can act upon those circumstances.

Some of us, of course, because of accidents of birth and good luck, are in a better position to act. We have privileges bestowed by upbringing, education, and money. But instead of just wallowing in those privileges, we can use what we have and what we know for the common good.

We can support the science that created vaccines to fight the global virus. We can support the infrastructure that will take that vaccine to all parts of the world, not just our own middle-class neighborhoods.

We can be allies to those fighting against racial injustice, offering our monetary support and our voices, speaking out in our own circles in favor of equity, respect, and justice.

We can be involved in the political process, letting our elected officials know how we feel on the issues – like science and social justice – and supporting nonprofit groups that work to improve democracy.

The past year may have whapped us down in multiple ways, but this is no time to despair. Instead, we should seize the opportunities for change that are in front of us now.

We can make the world better. We may not be crusaders, out in the vanguard. But each of us has the power to make the world whatever our circumstances. It should be our duty and our joy.

Charlyne Berens is an author and retired professor and associate dean of the University of Nebraska College of Journalism and Mass Communications. She also spent 14 years as editor and co-publisher of the Seward County Independent.

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