Monday, September 30, 2013

Congratulations & Condolences


It's not that I'm not grateful but somehow there is a pang of bitterness that comes with winning the Freshman Prize Debate. Don't get me wrong, I could not be happier and I consider myself incredibly lucky to have such a great support group of friends that helped me win the prize. And I most definitely am not trying to diss anybody who participated, we all did our best and I don't have any right to lord it over anyone.

Yet every time somebody congratulates me I don't quite know how to respond except rejoice and feel that I'm supposed to be a lot more ecstatic about my speech. 

I spoke against the motion which was that responsibility ends at our borders. I used the example of the Westgate Mall Kenya massacre to demonstrate how our world is so interconnected that it was impossible and immoral to shirk from our responsibilities to every citizen of this Earth. 

But there's the problem, see? I used the Kenyan massacre. I distilled the tears and blood, the troubles and tragedies that affected real people into some simplistic didactic takeaway about the world. I felt almost soiled as I was speaking the words, like an actor wearing a blood-stained shirt and winning a prize for his performance, except that the blood was real and belonged to someone who had to die for him to win. 

The night before the debate, I had just attended a candlelight vigil for the victims of the massacre. A few Yale students had been personally affected. The ceremony was simple and solemn, but heartbreaking. It kept me awake, eyes staring at the ceiling for hours on end. It was all too real. 

I had grappled with my feelings when I spoke the words to my speech. I tried to attempt to express my sorrow and my empathy, I tried to do justice to the victims of the massacre and honor their memory, I tried to bring this great message of caring for one another, but everything seemed to fall short. My words felt hollow and meaningless. I felt like that politician who only appears at televised funerals during campaign season and who pretends to eulogize people he does not even know for publicity's sake. 

I consider myself an introspective person. I try to reflect on what I am doing, how I am doing it and why am I doing it every once in a while. And all the while, as I looked back upon that Freshman Debate, the prime motivation in place was simply to win.

How often do we, in the face of glory, forget the real impact of the issues we debate? How often do we reduce lives and livelihoods to plot devices and rhetorical questions? Is this what politicians do?

What does it say about me as a person?

I'm afraid I don't have any answers. All I know is that somewhere, while I'm eating away the hundred dollars someone is suffering from the very incidents I mentioned to win a prize with.

"My condolences."

1 comment:

  1. don't be too hard on yourself, man. it's too strong to say you used it, it was a tragic event that serves as a constant remind to us on how we should conduct ourselves. as long as we act on it - or if someone who heard you speak acts upon it, it isn't in bad faith.