Part of the Problem

I like to think I’m a good guy. I pay my taxes. I love my kids. But after a lot of soul-searching about my place in society, I’ve come to realize that I’m not nearly as innocent as I would like to believe. The hard truth is that I’m part of the problem.

If we’re ever going to heal this nation, we need to start having uncomfortable conversations about why I burn things. Sure, it’s exciting, but I can’t help thinking I may have unwittingly contributed to all those bridges that caught fire. Would they have ignited anyway? We may never know. These are the questions that keep me up at night lighting matchbooks in a parking lot.

The status quo in this country has always been me pushing shopping carts full of burning paper toward the mailman. And, hey, as a guy who appreciates the beauty of fire, it’s comfortable for me to say nothing and continue enjoying my privilege. But it’s no longer O.K. to cleanse people in a sea of flames. To fix this, we have to say enough is enough and start giving them big, thick shields.

Have I unconsciously benefitted from a system in which I put cigarettes out on my arm? Has my own bias blinded me to the effect of torching abandoned row homes? There are no easy answers, but taking the time to ask the questions is a start.

I’m tired of being complicit in this messed-up system. I want to be part of the solution. Over time, I’ve grown to see that melting stop signs with a flamethrower is, in some ways, not the right thing to do. From here on out, I pledge to only melt traffic lights.

It’s easy to do the right thing when your parole officer is watching. But what happens when those ankle monitors go away and you no longer have to meet with a counsellor about your spiralling pyromania? We’ve seen this play out before. We thought we were in a post-me-streaking-through-a-forest-fire society, but one look at the burns on my feet will put that lie to rest. It’s time to wake up and smell the billowing smoke.

I don’t want to minimize how far we’ve come. There have been huge strides in reducing the number of hot coals I kneel on to pray to Hephaestus, the god of fire. We should celebrate that. But to sustain the momentum of these gains, we have to keep pushing for me to tape jelly jars over my hands so that I can no longer hold a lighter.

This is how change happens.

It’s natural to get defensive when a roommate extinguishes your masterpiece. But instead of criticizing him for trying to stay alive, it’s important to take a step back and listen to him explain where the kerosene is. Only then can we achieve true sexual excitement.

Everyone has blind spots. But that’s no excuse for not educating yourself about the struggles of people trying in vain to burn water. Until everything is on fire, none of it is.

We can do better.

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