I’ve got to say that the news of the world the past few years has gotten me down.
Mass shootings at schools and malls, churches, nightclubs and supermarkets. Racial hostilities as toxic and ripe as those I saw erupting 60 years ago when Martin Luther King was marching for human rights. The humanitarian calamities of refugee and immigrant resettlements that can no more be resolved by callous mistreatment than by open-border benevolence. Failing schools that assign far too many of our nation’s children to ignorance and intractable poverty. A deeply disconcerting global pandemic. Opioid addictions. Cancerous social media. Mental health warnings among young people. The perilous fissure between rich and poor. The world at war. The ominous early stages of climate change rattling the entire planet, presaging a dangerous future. Putin invading Ukraine.
What has weighed even more heavily on me, though, is the behavior of those who should know better. The feckless disregard for truth. The abandonment of civil discourse. Demonizing the other. The shameless pandering to anger, insolence and our primal instincts. The condoning of violence. The desperate grasp for power overriding the common good. An assault on our nation’s democratic ideals — and on decency, integrity, compassion, honor. An unwillingness to listen, to seek solutions, to work through differences and find a path forward that just might make the problems we face less daunting, less formidable. Not worse.
With these brewing crises, and the University’s focusing this year’s forum on issues of war and peace, the magazine built an issue around a bramble of such discouragements.
One place to start — a story about the conscience: What is it? Where does it come from? Why do some people have a conscience and others apparently not? We posed the question to an alumna with academic expertise on the topic. She took the query in a different, less judgmental direction, writing about moral conduct and kindness and hope. We asked a writer to examine the rub between power and powerlessness, and along the way she emphasized our duty to hope. We have two stories on the war in Ukraine — and both are flooded with courage, goodness, perseverance and hope. We asked for a report on the hell that is Haiti, and a man who runs an orphanage there wrote about it — and his fervid desire to follow Christ despite the pandemonium.
When we started assigning these stories, I was most like Mark Phillips’ neighbor, a man resigned to the dire inevitability of it all. I don’t feel that way as much today, largely because of the people here leaning so determinedly into hope — the hope we can find in each other.
Kerry Temple is editor of this magazine.