The world needs more dead poets

The Dead Poets Society – a secret organization where boys blossomed into men, inspired by Thoreau’s „sucking marrow out of life”, learning to leave behind the suffocating conformity of Welton Academy. Brilliant young minds who started to make their own choices – as the free thinkers Mr Keating aspired to teach them to be.

The first message, hard to miss as it’s shouting at us directly from the novel pages, seems to be – seize the day, for you are going to die sooner than you know, and you will regret not listening to your own voice. You are a unique person. And a time will come – as you mature – to be daring and discover yourself in the jungle of others’ expectations.

Some readers stop here and misinterpret the subject matter as unreasonably hedonistic or rebellious. What does it mean to be „dead”? Is it just maximizing the kick you get out of each second of your life, because you remember soon you will not be in this world to admire the sunset?

No, there is far more to being „dead”.

Welton Academy had a code that was not to be questioned. The boys’ lives were planned without their consent, which created a sense of quiet despair. They could not express who they are for they did not fully know – yet they understood the lives they are living are not their own. Still, the confinement to Academy’s rules and the required obedience to their elders was all claimed to be executed for their own good. They were praised as excellent future elites. How to break away from such conventions?

A man crossed their path – someone who treated them seriously, like adults with their own minds, hearts, passions and valid opinions. Until then, they constantly felt the tension between what they want and what others want of them. Mr Keating challenged each student to search for his own unique voice. And then, some refused to be shaped into the generic form of an American Harvard student, for they decided to live as who they are, in the excitement of newly found identity. They grew up and found the courage to claim „you do not know better than me what is best for me”.

However, this is still not what it truly means to be a dead poet. When you break away from the herd, the world will test you harshly. Those who wanted to control you will try to intimidate you, lure you with benefits, abuse you and silence you.

Will you pass that test? You have now found your own voice, decided to live your own life. Walk in truth of who you are.

How much does it cost to buy your silence? How much does a politician have to pay to get you back into living a lie?

This is when a true dead poet answers „I am not for sale”.

The members of the Society had to battle the powerful structure of Welton Academy. The choice was clear – sign your name under lies or face expulsion. Tell the truth and say goodbye to your future career, your income prospects, your family’s approval. What would you choose? Some chose to lie. Some chose to hide.

The most dynamic character, Todd Anderson, could barely speak up in the beginning of the year. Now, having found himself, a grown up man filled with passion and courage, he refuses to go down without a fight. There were so many tricks thrown at him – trying to get his signature under a false statement by claiming all others did the same, faking said signature, not allowing any form of communication between his peers and Mr Keating. All to hide that the person behind their classmate’s tragic death is one of the esteemed founders.

How to even fight a lost case? Shout out of rooftops? Even if people believe you, they will be scared to lose their benefits.

But Todd doesn’t care about what people think anymore. He cares about what is right. And he does just that. Stands on the table and speaks up.

A true dead poet.

Because being „dead” is standing up to defend the truth, even if the world is trying to shut you down.

And throughout history, in all of the political regimes, organizations, academic institutions – people were facing this choice. Every single day someone has to answer the question of „how much do I have to pay you to cover up my wrongdoings?”. And every day someone chooses to stay true to their principles, losing their career, reputation, or even life.

You are „dead” when you know the newspaper will censor you, but you write what needs to be written anyway – because it is the right thing to do. You are „dead” when you could earn the benefit of going abroad if only you agreed to collaborate with your resident dictator – but you refuse. The last century is marked with silent heroism of numerous dead poets – those who hid Jewish children during the WWII despite facing death penalty, those who spoke up against Communist crimes only to be secretly murdered later on, those who smuggled forbidden books behind the Iron Curtain even though they knew they could have ended up in prison.

You are „dead” when you are not scared to do the right thing – for you know you will die anyway; and you would rather die than betray yourself. Being „dead” means having a spine that is not easy to break – even in extreme situations. Because above all, you choose to stay in truth.

I choose Sophie Scholl, a member of the White Rose resistance movement, guillotined in 1943 at the age of 22 for working tirelessly to educate the Bavarian public of Hitler’s crimes, to be the spokesperson for all of the world’s dead poets:

“The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‚survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”

Being a dead poet takes a lot of energy. It is a difficult road, often marked with abuse. And yet, it is the only road to be taken in the face of oppression. This is when you do not let yourself be molded into obedience. Because in the face of oppression, there is no peace, nor is there any kind of being left alone. And a man has to pick a side.

Opublikowane przez agnieszkakonstancja

Freedom, not manipulation.


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