Contributor Post Created with Sketch. The Ricochet Weekend Essay Assignment

 

stllewisIn C. S. Lewis’s classic work the Screwtape Letters, you’ll recall, Screwtape, a senior demon, offers advice to Wormwood, his nephew, on the most useful techniques for leading humans, by slow degrees, to hell. Here, just a couple of sentences — and note that when Screwtape refers to “the Enemy” he is writing about God.

“There’s nothing like suspense and anxiety for barricading a human’s mind against the Enemy. He wants men to be concerned with what they do; our business is to keep them thinking about what will happen to them.”

Your assignment: To demonstrate the applicability of these two sentences (if indeed you see any at all) to the duties of a citizen in a democracy.

There are 33 comments.

  1. Mate De Coolidge

    Oh man, I didn’t know there was homework involved with this membership.

    • #1
    • March 13, 2015, at 11:26 AM PST
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  2. Done Contributor

    Matede:Oh man, I didn’t know there was homework involved with this membership.

    Do what I do and copy off of Son of Spengler.

    • #2
    • March 13, 2015, at 11:42 AM PST
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  3. MarciN Member

    Frank Soto:

    Matede:Oh man, I didn’t know there was homework involved with this membership.

    Do what I do and copy off of Son of Spengler.

    Me too. :)

    • #3
    • March 13, 2015, at 11:58 AM PST
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  4. EJHill Podcaster

    I’d rather opine on Old Harry’s Game. It’s a BBC radio comedy series set in hell. They briefly toyed with the idea of animating it:

    A lot more fun.

    • #4
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:06 PM PST
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  5. MarciN Member

    I really enjoyed The Screwtape Letters. I read it in high school, and it has remained in the back of my mind as a treasure.

    But I’d still have to copy off of SoS’s paper. :)

    • #5
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:08 PM PST
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  6. The Great Adventure! Member

    Well, I’m not going to write a full blown essay, but I will challenge anyone who is willing to play a little game that I invented (or at least that I play regularly – someone else could very well have come up with it before I did).

    You’ll need a notepad and a pen (or if you’re so inclined, use your laptop and One Note).

    During your regular TV watching, starting Friday night through Sunday night, jot down each commercial’s topic – doesn’t even matter who is selling what. Then identify what fear they are trying to stimulate in you. For years we’ve been listening to “Sex sells”, but I would propose to you that fear is a much stronger and more common motivating tactic.

    Fair warning – if you play this game for one weekend, chances are good you’ll never watch another commercial without shouting out what fear they’re trying to stimulate.

    • #6
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:11 PM PST
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  7. Mate De Coolidge

    Well I’m going to have to copy off of somebody because I don’t know if I can articulate the subject. Peter can’t we write an essay on John Hughes movies?

    • #7
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:12 PM PST
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  8. Mate De Coolidge

    The Great Adventure!:Well, I’m not going to write a full blown essay, but I will challenge anyone who is willing to play a little game that I invented (or at least that I play regularly – someone else could very well have come up with it before I did).

    You’ll need a notepad and a pen (or if you’re so inclined, use your laptop and One Note).

    During your regular TV watching, starting Friday night through Sunday night, jot down each commercial’s topic – doesn’t even matter who is selling what. Then identify what fear they are trying to stimulate in you. For years we’ve been listening to “Sex sells”, but I would propose to you that fear is a much stronger and more common motivating tactic.

    Fair warning – if you play this game for one weekend, chances are good you’ll never watch another commercial without shouting out what fear they’re trying to stimulate.

    Isn’t that how the local news advertises to get you to watch (especially women).

    “We’ll show you how your favorite brand of toothpaste might be killing you… tonight at 11”

    • #8
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:16 PM PST
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  9. Bereket Kelile Member

    Peter, it sounds like you were reading the same Federalist I read today. Interesting timing. I think the part that best connects with the essay prompt comes from a statement by Rauschenbusch:

    Because the Kingdom of God has been dropped as the primary and comprehensive aim of Christianity, and personal salvation has been substituted for it, therefore men seek to save their own souls and are selfishly indifferent to the evangelization of the world.

    That assessment of the decline of the American Protestant church seems to answer the question by implication. The focus shifts from a message of spiritual redemption to a message of redeeming society through various charitable crusades, all led by the government of course.

    • #9
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:44 PM PST
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  10. TKC1101 Inactive

    A democracy needs people who are driven by what is right to them. An elite run state deals with people who worry primarily about their own well being.

    I watched a show about the first engagement with the British in 1775. Colonists, outnumbered 10 to one, stood and faced off the British regulars. These were ordinary people behaving in an extraordinary way. They were decimated, but began the conflict leading to freedom.

    The British assumed the colonists would worry about the consequences to themselves, such a situation makes people easy to dominate.

    Freedom, Liberty, Individual Achievement all lie with Screwtape’s enemy. The path is hard but the reward is of value. When the populace becomes obsessed with well being or avoidance of hurt, they are serfs, and their children are doomed to be serfs. They are lesser people as a result.

    Reagan convinced people that leadership is getting government out of the way so you could achieve and people responded. Both parties today are peddling giveaways.

    Serfs Up, Wormwood

    • #10
    • March 13, 2015, at 12:59 PM PST
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  11. Pilli Inactive

    OMG! What if you lose your employer health insurance and have to buy it out of your own pocket? What if you also have a pre-existing condition? You’ll never be able to afford it. You’ll end up in poverty, homeless, on the streets fighting for scraps from a dumpster if you live long enough.

    We have the answer…Obamacare!

    Fear and anxiety followed by dependence on other people.

    What could be more Screwtape?

    • #11
    • March 13, 2015, at 1:23 PM PST
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  12. James Gawron Thatcher

    Peter,

    You have given a Kantian this assignment? The obvious is to simply repeat a dry analysis. “Gd wants men to be concerned with what they do.” – Gd has created a full deontological ethics for us to follow. Concentrate on fixing your will to the Categorical Imperative and behave properly and you’ll be fine. “The Devil’s business is keeping them thinking about what will happen to them.” – The Devil is a Utilitarian. (I always suspected this but it was nice of Mr. Lewis to confirm it for me.) Endlessly weighing outcomes instead of concentrating on what is the immediate moral course will lure you into short term gains and long term eternal damnation.

    Well that was quick and quite painless especially for me. A bit too dry don’t you think. How about we come down out of the ether and take a real world example, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

    I think it almost self evident that Bill Clinton was stepping out on Hillary from college onward. She knew it and chose to play the game. For those of us born at just the right time the Devil’s pull was exceedingly intense. All the truly massive chaos was behind us. The Depression, WWII, Korea, The Holocaust, Dropping the Bomb. The post war world’s imperative seemed nothing more than routine soulless consumerism. Be concerned with outcomes and whatever you do don’t look back. Without any moral compass all that hard stuff from the greatest generation would scare the heck out of you and take your mind off maximizing your outcomes. Pop psychology and drugs encouraged you not to trouble yourself with the difficult moral choices. How easy could it get for the Devil. Hell, Inc. could just sit back and let it happen. The souls would come rolling in.

    Hillary as a classic member of the post war generation bore down on the thought that getting ahead was more important than Bill’s indiscretions. The gnawing pain that this caused her was buried under Alinsky rules for radicals and pop psychology rationalizations. As with Faust nothing helps the Devil more than the initial success of the sinner. HRC sucked it in and road it all the way to the White House. What could go wrong? Then her two X chromosomes hit the fan. While benefiting from extreme feminist grievance politics she was forced, to protect her outcomes, to crush the bimbo eruptions caused by Bill’s lack of any sexual conscience whatsoever. The massive hypocrisy should have been enough to damn her for an eternity. However, ‘Gd is slow to anger’ as we Jews like to formulaicly recite. When she had seen it through two terms of Bubba’s Presidency, Gd still provided her with a means of redemption. Similarly, after Pharaoh had ignored the first 5 plagues he still could have repented and listened to Gd’s word. Gd is slow to anger.

    Having left the White House still standing so to speak HRC could have taken the still existing opportunity to stop chasing outcomes and finally do what was right. She could have divorced Bill, written books about it, and helped a new generation of Americans think responsibly about sex and marriage. After 5 or 6 years of this she might very well have gone back into politics now unencumbered by the sins of the past. Instead Hillary chose to continue chasing outcomes and not do the immediate moral thing, one more time. You could hear the Devil clicking his heels in delight. She sealed her fate. She shall finally be driven from the political stage in infamy. She will remain in political hell for the rest of time.

    https://youtu.be/AsWR0CTWazQ

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #12
    • March 13, 2015, at 3:07 PM PST
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  13. The Great Adventure! Member

    James Gawron drops mic and walks off stage.

    • #13
    • March 13, 2015, at 4:07 PM PST
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  14. Bruce Caward Thatcher

    If you want a trip, download “The Screwtape Letters” from Audible. It’s read by John Cleese, and it is, in an overused word, awesome.

    While there look for an Audible copy of my favorite C.S. Lewis book, “The Great Divorce”, about a man – our “reporter” – who travels from Hell with a bunch of residents up to Heaven for a day trip, where they are all invited to stay if they want, on one condition . . . .

    You really need to listen to this book once a year or so. I’m no longer a Christian as I was growing up, I simply can’t bring myself to actually believe it all. But I love the works of Lewis, and if I ever have a road-to-Damascus experience – as he did – it will probably be because of his writings finally getting the better of my doubt.

    As to the passage above, I am reminded of something I heard recently in a non-sanctioned podcast (other than Ricochet), called “Invisibilia” (yes, it’s NPR).

    The episode was called “Fear”, and was pretty interesting, mostly looking at the “bicycle helmets?? Why, when I was a kid we . . . ” question – why are we all so much more frightened today. The most valuable thing I got out of it was from a scientist/researcher who described all the changes that occur in the body and brain when we detect danger and are in a state of fear or alarm – it’s profound. He described how useful this is and how it helps us escape the danger and get back to safety.

    Then he said that the body is not designed to be in this state often, or for long stretches; strange things start to happen in the brain: paranoia, over-alertness, not to mention all kinds of impossible-to-predict changes in our thoughts and impressions of the outer world. He opined that with the advent of mass communication, and a Media that highlights constant tragedy/calamity/woe/alarm/bleeds-leads stories, we are all kept in an artificial state of alarm, and that this has sort of driven us all crazy. But since we’re all crazy, we’re not aware of it.

    Dennis Miller has for a while now been counseling his listeners to unplug, stop paying attention to the daily offering of woe. Callers accuse him of being the “good man who does nothing so evil prevails”. I think instead that he instead has seen, maybe sensed, this phenomenon, and has opted to make himself sane.

    Love to hear your impressions of the Invisibilia episode, and you should all go download The Great Divorce immediately.

    • #14
    • March 13, 2015, at 4:08 PM PST
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  15. The Great Adventure! Member

    The Great Divorce is one of my favs, as well as Screwtape. I actually played Screwtape in a sketch we developed several years ago.

    And my Road to Damascus moment came from Lewis – Mere Christianity, as a matter of fact.

    • #15
    • March 13, 2015, at 4:13 PM PST
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  16. Ansonia Member

    For some reason, I wonder if anyone taking up the challenge of the assignment will imagine and describe a senior devil’s instructions to a junior devil who is his (her) personal tempter.

    • #16
    • March 13, 2015, at 4:22 PM PST
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  17. Scott Wilmot Member

    I’m guessing you read Magnificat!

    This is the Jesus visits Martha and Mary story. The one necessary thing in life is to be focused on God. When we let our anxieties and troubles rule our life we have the tendency to want to take control (at least I do).

    Certainly this administration and progressives in general cause me much anxiety and I worry about the fate of our nation. I find myself furious at times with policies they enact and they way they do business.

    I strive to have my faith inform and guide all things in my life. My duties as a citizen are to follow just laws and to work for the common good. I am called to obey authority but to also speak out against that authority when they do that which is harmful to human dignity and the good of the community. I have a duty to pay taxes, vote, and defend my country. But in the end, I know I play a small, but very important part: to stay faithful to the teachings of Christ and His Church while conducting my civic duties, knowing that if I do this, even if the country goes to hell, there will be a final reward.

    • #17
    • March 13, 2015, at 4:46 PM PST
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  18. Saint Augustine Member

    Let’s not forget Hell’s endorsement of the appeal to the people fallacy. I’m not going to my office to find the book on the weekend, so here’s a paraphrase of Screwtape:

    Wormwood, what you want is for your human to ask questions like Is it new? and Is it all the rage these days? and Is it the way society is moving? You must never allow him to ask questions like Is it true? or Is it just? or Is it beneficial?

    (And I am sorry, Peter Robinson, for not doing my homework.)

    • #18
    • March 13, 2015, at 7:03 PM PST
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  19. Hammer, The Member

    wait… you mean a whole essay? In the past, I’ve responded to a few of your assignments by writing what I was already planning to write and then realizing that it actually did answer your question. So maybe I’ll just put “in response to Peter Robinson” in the title, and my assignment to you will be (after “read this”) to figure out how my essay is a legitimate answer to the question. :)

    • #19
    • March 13, 2015, at 8:00 PM PST
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  20. Titus Techera Contributor

    I’ve got a vulgar answer & something with a bit more thought into it, but I’ll start with the vulgar answer, because I like it better. Screwtape knows us well. We want control over the world in which we live. We want our world to be the world as such, for example. We do not like diversity, actually–except those kindly souls who know other people are people, too, we mostly find it baffling that it should be so. First, control is essentially going to set us at each other’s throat. Secondly, we think we know what to do with the power we think we want–if there are other people, who are also people, & who disagree, that makes a mockery of the knowledge that justifies, indeed, urges, us to want control. If we cannot take other people seriously, that is, be kind & not harm them, how are we going to take God seriously?

    Now, what I’ve said above makes sense to me; it’s become obvious, really, but I am not at all sure it makes me a better man. I am even given to thinking that if this awareness were to make others better men, it still would not do anything more for me.

    But I’ve had to reckon with the other part of what Lewis says–why does God wants us to think on what we do, as opposed to obeying commands? If you think of our lives as our doings & the goings on in which we have no great part, then you can see how strange it is that we should have any kind of doings. If you look at what goes on in the world, freedom tends to wither away. You take an umbrella if it rains, you eat if you’re hungry, you run away if you get scared–we are playthings of our circumstances–the goings on of life.

    Even more, our politics is of this kind. People with shockingly little care for people spend their lives concocting incentives & disincentives, on the assumption that people need prodding. They may resist, but they can be prodded. & they should be. It is someone’s business to prod them, & that’s the way the world works. Playing with different things people need or want or think they want will rearrange people’s lives. It is not whatever it is that they are doing that matters–what matters is that they do what they are expected to do. People have to be predictable, they have to respond to incentives properly. The less people think of themselves as people, in short, the better it will be for them & for everyone else.

    Doing is some way of talking about action & choice & freedom. Thinking on our ability to act requires a kind of defense of action–have we really any freedom? I guess, nowadays we’d say, this is how we become aware we need to be responsible. We should be responsible. There are some doings which fall under our responsibility. Dealing with them shows us our powers, such as they are, but also our limits. Beyond those limits, we glimpse God. We assume, do we not?, that God is responsible for the world in which we find ourselves. But we are only able to deal with a small part of the world, our part. We have an experience of human things which surpasses any other experience. We get a sense of the human good, toward which we tend, for which we strive. That is a complicated thing, caught up in our conflicts, maybe not something we can fully understand or practice, but it is always our starting point & it points also beyond our affairs to God, as a kind of completion of what is broken in us.

    I think the diabolic reasoning weighs doings against goings on & figures that even good men, even the best men might come to ruin by dumb chance. A brick falls; lightning strikes; some strange, unexplainable momentary failure of the body. From that, the reasoning concludes: Excluding chance from everything is the way to go. Acquiring predictive powers & control over the goings on in the world is what we need to do. From wiping out bodily disease to preventing cosmic collisions. We’ve got to be in control of it all, or we’re lying to ourselves with our professions of good.

    There is a lot to be said for that, except that it’s obvious that we’re not in control of the world. How do you deal with being fearful about what’s going on in the world? How do you live with that restlessness? The diabolic insight is that you could channel it rebuild the world–but do it properly this time, with perfect safety–such that motives for fear would be overcome. That means ultimately overcoming mortality.

    The insight specific to insisting on our doings is different & more conservative: We look at character, what a certain kind of man would do. That is not the same as what happens with scientific necessity–we must ignore the possibility of lightning strikes, & that’s no way to run an insurance business. But it preserves our basic sense of who we are & that we can & should act. Character, as opposed to think in terms of incentives & self-interest, preserves the differences between human beings at least to some extent, as well as the aspirational aspect of our interest in other people. We get a sense of what’s worthwhile about living aside from the quest for immortality. Diversity then would look like the diversity of excellences that cannot exactly go together & which we cannot make into a perfect machine. At least when we are given to reflection, the conflicts between people can reveal character & therefore human possibilities that are worth understanding. This will not save lives, unlike scientific medicine. But it preserves humanity & without that, I am not sure how we can look to God.

    • #20
    • March 14, 2015, at 12:34 PM PST
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  21. Jennifer Johnson Inactive

    Mark Boone:Let’s not forget Hell’s endorsement of the appeal to the people fallacy. I’m not going to my office to find the book on the weekend, so here’s a paraphrase of Screwtape:

    Wormwood, what you want is for your human to ask questions like Is it new? and Is it all the rage these days? and Is it the way society is moving? You must never allow him to ask questions like Is it true? or Is it just? or Is it beneficial?

    (And I am sorry, Peter Robinson, for not doing my homework.)

    I love that part too. It’s from the first letter:

    Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to having a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think that materialism is true! Make him think it is strong or stark or courageous—that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.

    • #21
    • March 14, 2015, at 12:43 PM PST
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  22. Jennifer Johnson Inactive

    Bruce Caward:If you want a trip, download “The Screwtape Letters” from Audible. It’s read by John Cleese, and it is, in an overused word, awesome.

    It is also on Youtube.

    • #22
    • March 14, 2015, at 12:48 PM PST
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  23. James Gawron Thatcher

    The Great Adventure!:James Gawron drops mic and walks off stage.

    Great,

    I was never that thin and that’s not my shade of lip rouge. I can remember “Sympathy for the Devil” and “Riders on the Storm” when they first came out. Both gave me the same feeling. Something had gone very, very wrong. I was way too young to know just what.

    Regards,

    Jim

    • #23
    • March 14, 2015, at 6:59 PM PST
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  24. Hammer, The Member

    hmm… well, I did start writing something with this in mind. But I’ll summarize, that the problem with focusing on what will happen to you, rather than what you can do, is that you often confuse the two – meaning, you mistake the consequences of your own actions for external forces that act upon you. This makes you a victim, of course.

    • #24
    • March 14, 2015, at 10:54 PM PST
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  25. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    At some level, I suspect that Wormwood was the prototypical Leftist who took the advice seriously and made it a part of his and his party’s strategy. How different is that philosophy from the concept of never allowing a crisis to go waste?

    • #25
    • March 15, 2015, at 8:53 AM PST
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  26. Titus Techera Contributor

    Eugene Kriegsmann:At some level, I suspect that Wormwood was the prototypical Leftist who took the advice seriously and made it a part of his and his party’s strategy. How different is that philosophy from the concept of never allowing a crisis to go waste?

    How different is it from Hobbes declaring that the first law of nature is survival & everything else is derived from it? Does not that justify anything anyone could do? Is not the implication there that man is moved fundamentally–naturally–by fear of death?

    • #26
    • March 15, 2015, at 9:07 AM PST
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  27. Eugene Kriegsmann Member

    I would tend to agree with you, Titus, that fear of death is a primary mover. However, few crises actually involve a danger of death to everyone, yet a good propagandist, though, is capable of making everyone fear for his or her life. This, I believe, is the nature of the concept of using a crises to the benefit of those in power.

    Screwtape is essentially telling Wormwood that if we can make them fear for their existence, then they will be more concerned preserving their lives at any cost than in doing it in a manner that reflects moral principles.

    • #27
    • March 15, 2015, at 9:17 AM PST
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  28. Titus Techera Contributor

    Eugene Kriegsmann:I would tend to agree with you, Titus, that fear of death is a primary mover. However, few crises actually involve a danger of death to everyone, yet a good propagandist, though, is capable of making everyone fear for his or her life. This, I believe, is the nature of the concept of using a crises to the benefit of those in power.

    I think you’re aiming too small. How about reorganizing a society around fear of death such that safety & health become primordial concerns?

    Screwtape is essentially telling Wormwood that if we can make them fear for their existence, then they will be more concerned preserving their lives at any cost than in doing it in a manner that reflects moral principles.

    No, this must be wrong–Screwtape never advertises terror, of real or imagined things. The entire point is that you do not in fact have to terrorize, by guns, propaganda or random unexpected noises. All you need to do is to get people to discount human action in favor of chance–it really is hard not to feel powerless these days: Say you’re afraid some political problem is the undoing of us all–what can you do? Run, rant, or despair. The circumstances are completely in control of you; you’re not in control of anything…

    • #28
    • March 15, 2015, at 11:57 AM PST
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  29. Bruce Caward Thatcher

    Jennifer Johnson:

    Bruce Caward:If you want a trip, download “The Screwtape Letters” from Audible. It’s read by John Cleese, and it is, in an overused word, awesome.

    It is also on Youtube.

    Thanks! I had forgotten that they evidently used a picture of JC on the cover – at least it looks like him. This is really good stuff.

    • #29
    • March 15, 2015, at 1:18 PM PST
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  30. listeningin Inactive

    When we look at history, it is not the antagonists that we wish to be like…those that in their anger, fear, and confusion can only work against rather than being the protagonist in their own story. Those we admire, and those who change the world, are the ones who have the courage of their own convictions, have their own vision that is clearly virtuous, and boldly and effectively carry it out for the good of others and themselves.

    • #30
    • March 16, 2015, at 8:26 AM PST
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