When I saw what was going on in Charlottesville over the weekend, I wasn’t shocked. I was disgusted. And since then, I’ve thought about what I can do to help improve our nation’s situation. Last autumn, I did not vote for Donald Trump. Like so many, I was certain he could never win, that his rhetoric was too much on the fringe, his personality too brash, and his allowance of hatred too frequent.
And then he won.
Since then, I have thought a lot about the history of our country. Inspired in part by my Hamilton obsession* and in part by my education in the humanities, I have thought at length about where we stand as a nation and what it means for our future. I cemented what I’ve thought to be true since I graduated from public school and started thinking for myself: America has never been great.
The MAGA caps are lies in so many ways, some of them so ironic it’s funny (like how they’re made in China). But the worst part about these hats is the idea behind them–that America was great.
America was great for white men who were willing to oppress First Nations People.
America was great for white men who were willing to oppress women.
America was great for white men who were willing to oppress people of color.
America was great for white men who were willing to oppress immigrants.
America was great for white men who were willing to oppress the LGBT community.
I could go on and on; these are just some of the examples of oppression that have built our country to the tinderbox it now is. Never was it great for everyone, and it’s so far from great now that it may seem impossible to even approach greatness, in the way many generally think of the term today.
And there’s the rub. In order to become great, we have to define greatness. Everyone seems to have differing opinions.
I want to share with you the usage of the term as tracked in Google’s N-gram viewer:
If you’re not familiar with this tool, it tracks the frequency of word usage in books over time. I’ve set the chart back to 1775. As you can see, the usage of the word “greatness” has been in decline since the early-mid nineteenth century. Only recently did it experience an uptick in popularity.
What I would like to do next is share how the definition of greatness has changed over centuries of use. For this, I searched for the term in the Online Etymology Dictionary**.
In Old English, it comes from the word greatnys which means “thickness, coarseness, stoutness.” It didn’t become associated with “eminence” until the 14th century. In the mid-nineteenth century, it was associated also with megalomania. So as you can see, throughout history, this word has been vague in that it has drastically changed meaning so many times that it shouldn’t even be an aspiration.
Instead, I suggest we aspire to equality. Now, I’m not naive. I know that a utopia is unrealistic, if not impossible. I doubt I will see one in my lifetime, at the least. But the whole point of society is to progress…the problem is that we’ve been progressing in the wrong direction, with the wrong aim.
We’ve been progressing to the benefit of the privileged, which leaves America using people as means to an end. I’d like to share with you a recent awakening I’ve had about toothpaste and shampoo.
For years, I’ve used Tom’s of Maine toothpaste. I use some of their other products and I liked thinking that I was using something that wouldn’t cause harm to me or the environment. Then I found out about this. I found out a little late, but better late than never, right?
Shame on me, I’d never read the label. I have what’s known as a histaminic intolerance to sulfates, which means that if I have enough sulfates, my eye or lip will swell up so that I look like I’ve been in a fight. Not fun. However, this experience taught me that Tom’s–and many other natural products–say they’re natural but because there’s no regulation on the usage of that term, they don’t actually have to be.
Now I use Jason’s, which doesn’t have any sulfates. No, I don’t like gel toothpaste. I don’t like tea tree and cinnamon flavor toothpaste. But you know what? At least I don’t wake up with my eye swollen shut.
Now, onto shampoo. My sister told me this last week about this app called Think Dirty. Think Dirty allows you to search for products and then it tells you how horrible the products are. I phrase it that way because most of what I’ve been using that I thought was good for me is highly carcinogenic. Even the sulfate-free supposedly amazing-for-you-and-the-earth shampoo I was using (Living Proof Daily).
It took a long time to find a shampoo that isn’t loaded with chemicals, lying about its ingredients, lying about testing on animals, and so many other things–I finally found one and it’s on its way. I haven’t tried it yet so I can’t recommend it, but if it’s good I’ll edit in my thoughts.
EDIT: I really love the new shampoo I’m using now. It’s bamboo-based, low-suds, gentle on the environment and gentle on me. It’s more $$$ than I’m used to paying for shampoo but it’s worth it. Going to add to the conditioner to my arsenal when I order my next bottle. This is what I bought: Hairprint Fermented Bamboo Shampoo.
Here’s what I cemented in my mind in the broader sense from my toothpaste and shampoo adventures: Most companies don’t care who or what they hurt or kill so long as they make a profit. They look out for themselves first.
Just like everyone in our country who is unwilling to live in a world that no longer grants them privilege.
So where does this leave us? Where does this leave me? What else can I do?
I can write.
I am a writer. I’m not a half bad one, I’m not afraid to say–though there’s always room for much improvement, hence pursuing my MFA. Writers can help formulate the world they want to see. They can help call attention to the wrongs they witness. They can hold up a mirror to the world and force it to meet its own reflection.
That’s what I will do–I will write back to fight back!
Everything I write from this day forward will be written with this idea in mind. This is my new motto–and I’ve never really had one before but it’s high time I have one. I welcome you to share this one with me, whether you write fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenplays, plays, songs or anything else.
In addition to blogging about getting my MFA and about writing, I’m going to blog about using the craft to better this world because while we’ve never been great and we may never be great, we can be pretty amazing if we stop running away from our own reflection.
*I wish that Hamilton could be viewed by the people it was intended to honor. It is far too expensive. I still love it though and can’t blame the artists for Broadway’s gouging.
**The OED is a great resource for writers. Whether or not you want to look up the history of the word “greatness,” you should bookmark this site.