Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Guest Column: Destiny Is What We Make It

I'd like to welcome Ed Fenstermacher, a friend and classmate of mine at M.I.T. 45 years back, as guest columnist today.  Ed is a former Air Force officer, current nuclear engineering consultant, husband, and proud father of three.  Ed can be reached at efenster@alum.mit.edu.
-  -  -  

This article was inspired by Bob’s blog on hyphenated Americans.  About a week ago I was watching (by default) the end of Meet the Press.  They had a love fest between Chuck Todd and a writer named Ta-Nehisi Coates, who apparently is the author of an article on why we should pay the descendants of ex-slaves reparations, and of several books including a new one entitled Between the World and Me.
I haven’t read the book, but I gathered from the interview that it involves conversations with his son, in which he apparently imparts the view that, as an African-American, he can expect to be abused. 

A few hours later, I had a young black man show up at my door with a piece of paperwork that had been omitted when he showed up for his Eagle Scout Board of Review.  He had completed an Eagle Scout Service Project, in which he had collected and shipped to a Liberian school both school supplies and sanitation supplies.  He had chosen to do this project after a trip to Liberia (where his father was born), during which he was exposed to the extreme poverty of the country, which drove home to him just how blessed he was to be born here. 

He shared this blessing with those less fortunate, by his own efforts and by persuading others to help.  This fine young man will be attending Hampton University and hopes to attend law school after he graduates.

It occurs to me that these two young men, who probably resemble each other physically, cannot be starting out with more different views of what is ahead.  The first, coming from the family of a published author lionized by the press, undoubtedly is from an elite family with elite connections.  He will have no trouble getting into an elite school; but he will be handicapped with the view that history is destiny.  He has been taught that his father was discriminated against, so he will be too, and to view the world with a chip on his shoulder.

The second, coming from a middle-class working family, believes that he can accomplish anything he sets his mind to.  I will bet that my new Eagle Scout, throughout school and his lifetime, will outperform young Mr. Coates, unless that young man shakes off his father’s indoctrination.

As for reparations, there would have been a case for them in 1865, based on the fact that the persons who had just been freed had been enslaved unjustly.  However, none of those people is alive today.  To the extent to which their descendants have been victimized, it was first by Jim Crow laws imposed by Democrats in the South, and then by a system that encouraged dependence and the breakup of the family -- starting with the New Deal, and continuing through the Great Society to today.  

We now have 80 years of evidence that, while the government can supply food and shelter, it cannot substitute for a father’s guidance.  This is borne out in the writings of economist Walter E. Williams (Race & Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?) and Wall Street Journal journalist Jason Riley (Please Stop Helping Us: How Liberals Make It Harder for Blacks to Succeed).  Both authors, by the way, are black.
The Eagle Scout I mentioned above is one of nearly a hundred I have worked with over the last two decades.  They have come from a range of economic circumstances, virtually every ethnic group and religion, and have been of all colors.  Many have had physical or learning disabilities.  What they do have in common is adults (usually a combination of two parents and scout leaders) -- adults who have cared enough about them to encourage them to do their best, to believe in themselves and in a higher power of some sort, to persevere, and to have a positive attitude.  These young men have embedded the Scout Law and Scout Oath in their lives, and there has not been a single one that I would not be proud to have as a son.

Of course, Scouting is just one way to accomplish the goal of producing a generation of young adults who will embody the best of what we have to offer as human beings. 

I just finished reading a book called InSideOut Coaching by a retired NFL Pro Bowl lineman named Joe Ehrmann, who became a pastor and coach.  The book takes the reader through a personal journey, during which he was taught all of the wrong lessons about life but, luckily, a few good ones as well.  He turned his life around after realizing that success on the field could not help in his biggest challenge, coping with the loss of his younger brother to cancer.  Over a period of years, he addressed the issues that had plagued him in his early life, and developed a program to nurture the best qualities of young men through coaching.  

He calls his program “Building Men for Others.”  The central tenet of his coaching is “To help boys become men of empathy and integrity who will lead, be responsible, and change the world for good.”  And he doesn’t wait for a government program to do it; he goes out and does it one boy at a time.

What it comes down to, in the end, is the message we pass along to our young people, particularly minorities that have historically faced adversity.  If you believe that history is destiny, you will limit yourself to the historical role.  

 But I believe that history is history ... and destiny is what we make it.

 Copyright 2015 by Robert Sutton
 Like what you read here?  There's a new post from Bob (or the occasional guest) at www.uberthoughtsUSA.com at 10am Eastern time, every weekday, giving new meaning to "prolific essayist."

1 comment:

  1. There are two young men who are working for me in a difficult project at NSA. One is going to graduate school in Electrical Engineering at Johns Hopkins, and the other will be a freshman at Princeton in the fall (Electrical Eng.). Both have a wonderful degree of enthusiasm and the former (Michael) has an excellent work ethic, well both of them do. When people mentioned to me that I would have a couple of interns, no one bothered to mention that they were African Americans. Well, that's engineering for you. The ultimate meritocracy. No one gives a sh-t who you are as long as you can do the work. If you can't, it doesn't matter where you came from - you're still a bum. All that is left for the rest of us is the sheer joy of saying to a young man: come work with us. We have interesting and intellectually challenging work to do. What you learn here will hopefully inform you about your work in life. If we're lucky, this experience will instill a joy and excitement in your life for engineering.

    I can't help but be disgusted at Ta-Nehisi Coates and the terrible damage he's inflicting on his young son. How disgusting that NPR chose to celebrate this nonsense and unthinkingly give him a platform to spread his poison.

    The two young men in my group will not make the news, at least today. But they are the true hope for the future, along with the people around them who prefer to judge them by the ability of their intellect, the promise of their enthusiasm, and, yes, the content of their character.