Several months ago, Buzzfeed had a post called, “15 Quotes That Show That Mr. Rogers Was A Perfect Human Being.” Aside from rekindling affection for one of children’s most admirable moral compasses, this post sparked a meditation on the lessons that children learn yet often forget or neglect as adults. Feel free to peruse Rogers’ words; reading them directly does far more justice to his character than anything I can add.
I will, though, opine on another beacon of youthful hope—Dr. Seuss. He championed an active pause, demanding his readers to, “think and wonder, wonder and think,” demonstrating time and again how these actions are far from removed ruminations. They occupy one’s entire. Such actions require us to join retrospect and prospects, a holistic application of carefully cultivated (and endlessly cultivating) wisdom.
“It’s better to know how to learn than to know.”
There’s something heartbreaking about his best quotes. Something urgent, even imperative, seeps out of Seuss’s axiomatic, chiastic phrases—I cannot help but apply them to the current state of U.S. politics and the shortcomings and tragedies of international policy and diplomacy (or lack thereof). With disgraced mayors, misused social media, a stalemated Congress, and a country (and world) on the brink, one could do worse than turn to the guiding principles we learned as children.
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”
“I meant what I said and I said what I meant.”
“Today I shall behave, as if this is the day I will be remembered.”
“Be who you are and say what you mean. Because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
Fault me for sincerity if you wish. I’m no politician. I’m no prophet. Nor do I wish to become either of those two. I fancy myself an outside observer who hasn’t been around long enough to voice compelling dictums without relying on authors and TV hosts for children. I try, however, to identify a problem when I see one—even if the solution remains enshrouded.
And yet: “Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple.” Ah, yes, the good doctor speaks even to this.
I’m not calling for a retreat into idealism. That said, I do see the merits of altruism. So what if it isn’t practical or realistic or the way things work? The brass tacks we step on painfully remind us of influence of lobbied big business or the hypocrisy of laissez-faire capitalism, but who’s to say we can’t pick up our feet into the air sometimes?
My conversations with a good friend often lead into political discussions. We often revolve around our disenchantment with leadership and public office. Without fail, we bring up our mutual admiration of William Bradford. We appeal to him not as naive historicists wishing to return to the principles of the founding fathers, but as what-if conjecturers yearning for a corrective. If someone managed to do it before, why not again?
You see, Bradford served as governor of Plymouth Colony for around thirty years from 1621 to 1657. He sought neither power nor esteem, but looked to answer a need for the colony that repeatedly reelected him. Over that time span, he was not serving in office for only five of those years, not because he fell out of public favor, but because he insisted on being relieved from duty and stepped down on his own volition.
I’m wary of those who seek power, sure. I’d much rather see individuals culled from the masses who have it thrust upon them, like Bradford.
Another quote, this time from Luke 12:48: “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”
This one’s scary. It invokes the true challenge and benefit of responsibility, not the enticements of congressional pensions, health benefits, or even historical legacies. And so, out of the mouths of babes. And humble television hosts. And storybook writers.
Now those are some words to live by. Living by them may not mean finishing the work that previous generations started, be it through wars or tax codes. Living by them means ensuring that those who have yet to come have the opportunity to live by them too.
So I leave you—until next month—with this one last quote, a Native American proverb that brings it all back to where I started: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.”
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.