There should be more Wes Moores in the world. People who actively and intelligently work to close the social inequality and social justice gap. People who believe that to close those gaps constant involvement of every single segment of society (in terms of age, ethnicity, or social background) is necessary. People who tell America that what happens to inner-city youth matters beyond the place these kids come from; who say that we are failing as a society if we don’t give every person in America the opportunity to fulfill his or her real potential; who defend passionately that education is not about transcripts or GPA, but about making young women and men understand what is worth standing for, and what one should fight for.
As a father, and as a male citizen, I especially appreciate speakers and public intellectuals to work hard at trying to redefine manhood in the U.S. I saw today Wes Moore speaking to a (mainly) young male audience the way it’s supposed to be done, if you want to win the hearts of young men: with simplicity but clarity, thoughtfulness, and authenticity. I agree with Wes Moore that our society (our men, our male adolescents) should be thinking hard about what it means to be a man. A man should not be measured by professional success, money, material goods, or ability to display violence. Manhood should be measured by willingness to serve others, above all family and close community.
Wes Moore tries to make our youth understand that finding who you really are (your limitations and flaws but also your virtues and inner strengths) is key to personal success in life. He emphasizes how important it is to know your origins: to know where you come from is key to know “what metal you are made of” (his words). There lies, he argues, one of the greatest difficulties African-Americans in the U.S. have to face, as in many cases they have been cut off from their roots, values, and true identity.
I listened to Wes Moore speak about what it meant for him to be in the army, to be a soldier. He denounced how difficult it is for veterans to reintegrate successfully into society. His comments reminded me of Sebastian Junger’s commentary on the alienation and emotional exclusion returning soldiers have to face when trying to reintegrate society.
Above all, Wes Moore has the courage to ask –had the courage to ask the members of our audience today, without pomposity or sentimentalism– the fundamental question, the only real question, at a personal level, worth asking: when it’s time for every one of us to leave any community, any relationship, or the big stage of life, Did I matter, did I make a difference in the world?
“Mattering” –making a difference– is at the same time a very hard and very simple task to carry out. Our transience hurts us. Things (people, states of mind, relationships) disappear, break apart. Clear goals and aims are elusive. Failure is our companion –for all of us. But in reality we prepare ourselves –our readiness to leave the stage– by our every day’s actions, and by our daily commitments to others and to ourselves.