Reflections

I remember my mother teaching me that when a baby is holding something (perhaps that is dangerous or something you don't want the baby to be holding) that if you try to pull it away, the baby will instinctively grasp tighter, but if you gently stroke the baby's knuckles then ey will release eir hold.  That may be true or it may be an old wives' tale, but I believe that the principle is true in general.

I want to make the world a better place.  If I accomplish nothing other than improving quality of life for another person, or other people, then I will be content.  I teach math because I think the world is a better place with the knowledge of mathematics, and that my students will be able to benefit from the knowledge and in turn help to make the world a better place.  I do math research because I think that an increase in the amount of knowledge available to us as a race helps improve our quality of life (even though I rarely delude myself into thinking that my research will directly improve quality of life).  I smile at the cashier at the grocery store and tell them to have a nice day too because I know that other customers may not be as kind.  Even gaming.  I play video games because they're fun--they improve my life, and I want to improve life for myself as well as for everyone else.

I share the things that I share on the Internet because I want the world to be better.  I see things that are going on that I think are problems and I want to do what I can to fix them, even if all I can do is raise awareness of the problem.  I think that gay people should be treated equally, so I raise awareness about that.  I think that women should be treated equally, so I share things about feminism.  I think that people of all different races should be treated equally, so I share things to that end as well.  I think that people should live their lives and base their actions on reason rather than on blind faith, so I post things about that as well.

Yet, in all of this sharing, I have come to ask myself, am I doing what I set out to do?  I want to make the world better, but am I doing it?  When I post things that led me to believe that the Mormon church is a fraud, have I done something good or bad?  When I post things about pacifism, am I doing good?

I think that everyone should proselytize.  That is, I think that everyone should try to share what they believe to be true (and important) with others.  Penn Jilette is my inspiration for this.  He says it all the time, and I agree with him.  If you sincerely believe that I have an eternal soul which will be condemned to wallow in misery forever unless I do what your book says to do, then I really truly want you to try as hard as you can to convince me that it is true.  I do.  Because if you're right, I don't want to end up spending an eternity in hell.  And, by the same token, since I believe all religion to be superstitious nonsense and I believe people participating in religious ceremonies are wasting their time and money and that their religious beliefs will lead them to do unwise and unreasonable things, I feel I have a duty to try to convince people of that.

But, what is more important than my intentions is my results.  I want to actually do some good.  I don't want to just stand on a soap box and pretend that I'm doing good.  I want to effect change.  I want to reach out to other people.

People often say "be the change you want to see".  This is what I want to do.  I want the world to be a kinder, more loving place.  So, I should be kinder and more loving.  I want people to refrain from discriminating against others for reasons of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, choice of clothing, social status, race, skin color, level of education, and many other categories.  So I shall do so myself.  I shall not treat people differently because of these things.  I want people to be nonviolent.  So I shall be nonviolent.  I want people to be free to make their own decisions, so I shall refrain from imposing my will on others.