March 2, 2011


One of my favorite authors is Anton Chekhov. I love his short stories and all his plays. He thought of the latter as comedies even though most of his characters are miserable, self deluded, and even suicidal. What made them comedies in his eyes was they expressed hope for the future and a better life.  

We are witnessing that same hope igniting in several countries in the Middle East as dictators struggle to cling to the past while the young seek a new direction.    

Thinking about change reminded me of an essay I was required to write for my college entrance exam in 1955. The question asked if I believed the world was becoming a better or worse place. Being young and full of hope, I answered in the affirmative. We no longer feed people to the lions, I reasoned. Therefore societies must be getting better.

(The Christian Martyrs’ Last Prayer by Jean-Leon Gerome)

56 years later, if asked again, I’d answer the question differently. Lions may be out of favor as a means for dealing with people who think differently from ourselves, but the passions that arise from these differences run deep as ever.  Only our method of eliminating our opposition has altered.  

Does my conclusion make me a pessimist? No. I am like one of Chekhov’s characters. I hope for the future. We don’t feed people to the lions anymore.  That’s true. And we’ve seen one revolution fought not with guns but with flowers.  I’m inclined to think it will happen again.