Seek light so that others may avoid the darkness
By Alex Baker
Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis invoked the natural human pursuit of light in a 1914 essay, writing “Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” We know now that the latter is not true, but in the former Justice Brandeis gave us an oft-quoted expression of our desire for transparency in government, and in the actions of government employees and those attempting to influence government.
Indeed, many of the words and phrases we use to describe our aspirations for governments and their officials are grounded in matters of light and vision. Government actions viewed as clear, transparent, illuminating and demonstrating are favored by most. Citizens hope for visionary political appointees directing public servants who shed light on matters of public interest, lend clarity and have the foresight to anticipate the needs of the citizenry. Government reports are sometimes said to illuminate issues explored within, highlighting specific, important details.
Government affairs are worrisome for us when words invoking a lack of light and visibility are used, when things are unclear, or hidden, covered up, hazy, or opaque. We distrust when officials conceal, bury or hide matters already quite apparent to the citizen, that is when conspicuous things are pushed into the darkness. When reports obscure or cloud the truth, we question what our government is doing in our name, with our tax money.
You seek light. Through a few degrees of separation, light is what feeds you, shelters and clothes you, and provides, I hope, a sense of security for the future. Light informs you. You read this magazine not only because you have exceptional taste, but because you seek information, knowledge and understanding. This would hold if you were in a different industry.
I seek light. I seek the beauty, the comfort and the energy that light brings. I seek the truth and justice that is possible with a greater comprehension of the world and its people.
Children seek light. Without light there is unknowing, where vivid imagination sweeps in to fill the gaps with all of the monstrous possibilities. A tired child needs a night light, or a crack of the bedroom door, to drive away the unknown and bestow the comfort that brings sleep.
We all seek light. yet, there has been so much darkness. For many, it is a seemingly inescapable darkness.
The social worker who attempts to draw homeless and mentally ill people out from cardboard boxes into the sunlight, hoping only to connect them to medical and mental health care, has learned that his Public Service Loan Forgiveness has been canceled. Just shy of the required 10 years of service, the government reneged, reframing rules implementing the 2007 law. Overwhelmed by the remaining balance, he leaves for a job in the private sector, and his many clients recede back into the darkness of forgotten alleyways.
The single mother who walks 2,500 kilometers from Honduras by moonlight and starlight with nothing more than her baby in her arms and the clothes on her back does so because she seeks light. She can no longer endure the darkness of hiding in fear from roaming village predators who will assault her, again. She knows it is only a
matter of time, that the police will not help her, and that seeking justice will undoubtedly put her in grave danger.
The father who advocates for his autistic son seeks the legally enshrined least restrictive environment possible, away from the dark shadows to which such children were once relegated. His curious son seeks understanding of the people and the world around him. He seeks enlightenment, that is, freedom from ignorance and misinformation. Far away, a politician with no experience as an educator rescinds longstanding guidance informing his legal protections as enacted in 1990. The father knows that a long, tenuous fight with their school district lies ahead. It is, to this family, a very dark day.
The young transgender woman who so bravely came out from the darkness of the closet attempts to enlist in the military only to be turned away based purely on who she is. Shocked by the codification of such discrimination by her own government, she volunteers her life itself for the service of her nation, but instead, she is marginalized. Another proud patriot pushed back into the shadows.
The six-year-old boy visited through the chain link fence who no longer lifts his head in hopes of seeing his long-lost mother no longer views the sun and the sky, instead looking down to the concrete beneath his fluorescent shadow where he finds little more than rat droppings. For him, this strange, lonely and inexplicable new world is a very dark place.
The teenage freshman whose enrollment in college marked a proud first for her family sits alone in a dark corner of the dining hall in despair as she repeats in her mind what happened last night in that awful sophomore’s dorm room.
University policy, she reads on her phone, meets the new federal requirements permitting her rapist to cross-examine her, that is, if she reports what happened. For fear of reprisal her darkest day will not be brought into the light.
The Black father known equally for his sense of humor and his considerable height, is suffocated to death by four government employees with whom he repeatedly pleads for his life. Gathered onlookers beg for it to stop, later walking away believing they are witnesses to murder. The nation shudders, horrified equally by what they have seen, and the predictably indifferent response of their elected leaders. It is a dark day for the man’s family, for his community, and for his nation.
Stories like these abound. Citizens of the world understand that with sunlight, with transparency in government, truth, justice, and the now seemingly uncommon notion of compassion, are all possible. The sacred scriptures of the world’s dominant religions all reinforce these ideas, each speaking at length about light and directing the faithful to uplift the oppressed and the needy.
Citizens know that to create or maintain darkness, that is to hide uncomfortable and sometimes incriminating facts, to suppress the truth, will only maintain the status quo that has left so many of our best people in the shadows our entire lives.
Now, more than ever before, I will seek light.