Look at all of the people gathered on the street corner. They crane their necks, trying to get a glimpse of the crime scene. Were they bank robbers? Terrorists? The crowd gawks at the FBI agents combing the ground. Hundreds of people assembled on a work day afternoon. Watching.
Turn on the TV to watch the evening news. Every step of the courtroom drama covered in full detail. Did O.J. do it? How will his lawyers evade the latest evidence trap? Watch the news and find out.
Lately we have increasingly become a nation of watchers. Other people's business is our business. Turn on the news and you will be deluged by institutionalized gossip. But this is nothing new. What is new and somewhat disturbing is the growing precedence that watching has taken over doing.
The country is going through political change the likes of which have not been seen since Lincoln's time. Newt Gingrich has assumed the mantle of leadership as our President continues in his failure to provide a national vision.
Where is the Democratic minority's response to the conservative revolution that has finally killed the New Deal coalition? Where are George Bush's points of light just when we need them? We watch the news but do not feel a part of it; we witness revolutionary changes but do not act on our principles.
Harvard is no exception. Apathy has almost become a way of life here. How far we have come from the days when students stormed University Hall, waiting until their demands would be met! Who could even say what those demands would be today? Do people care about anything anymore? Do we even believe that we can make a difference?
We are not encouraged to think so. In the past year's debate over ROTC's place in the Harvard community, self-denigration reigned supreme here at fair Harvard. Kenan Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield '53 referred to outspoken faculty as a "bunch of liberals with a nutty agenda." He expounded further that no one really cares what Harvard does.
Not all of us share Professor Mansfield's politics and that is fine. But certainly none of us should share his low estimation of self-worth. Though the nation's eyes don't always turn to Harvard, we must affirm our power to make a difference. The belief that our actions are worthless and heeded by no one is not only specious, it is dangerous as well. Precisely that same apathy allows ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and human rights abuses in China.
In fact, if Harvard could only teach her young one thing, it should be that they have a critical role to play in society. The hours we spend grappling with Kant and agonizing over physics should not be in vain. Our education here must be placed in a context of developing ourselves to become better citizens who can meaningfully impact a community. Otherwise our four years here are reduced to nothing more than an expensive intellectual vacation.
Now that he has returned full-time, President Rudenstine must restore Harvard's image as a leader. It's much easier to raise a million dollars a day if you have an influential product to sell. True, the crimson mystique is powerful, but unless Harvard has faith in its ability to lead and to influence the rest of the country, that mystique will soon be revealed as little more than smoke and mirrors.
Members of the faculty and the administration should not shy away from confronting issues, rather they should serve as models of civic virtue for students. Rudenstine and others must remind us all that this Collage should be a great forum for ideas and discussion, not just of academic issues, but of pressing problems of the day.
This University has some of the brightest and most talented young minds to be found anywhere. And with all the gripes that students have about Harvard, none can deny the amazing numbers of fantastically interesting and committed people who surround us. All that is needed is a little direction.
Students must band together and become socially aware and active. We must work together to strengthen the Harvard community and the country. That entails social service, intellectual debate, a commitment to lead, and a belief that our opinions are of some import.
We can no longer afford to be active only in times of crisis. The campus must ignite over issues other than internal tensions. As social programs feel the deep cuts of the budget knife, Harvard students must speak up and act out. As violence threatens to deprive America's next generation of a childhood, Harvard students must work to find a solution.
But first we must stop watching from the sidelines. Let us not go down in history as the generation of Beavis and Butthead. We members of Generation X must find our collective voice and exert the influence that we can and should have. This country has many problems that need fixing and many people who need helping.
Many of those problems lie beyond our ivy walls. With enough self-confidence and resolve, Harvard can once again be a place that people look to for leadership, a place where the best citizens that they can be. For if not now, when? And if not us, then who?