Today, I spoke with a man born during Herbert Hoover’s presidency.
Greeting me at the door, cane in hand, Frank spent about half an hour reflecting on politics in his lifetime. We talked about the New Deal, the Korean War, and most memorably, the middle-class economy of the 1950’s and 1960’s where “if you could chew gum and walk, you could get a decent paying job,” according to Frank.
However, he went on, times are a bit tougher now. Bills are getting harder to pay. “Amazing,” he reflected, “that a kid with a college degree could have a hard time finding a job.” My somewhat disheartening response: “Welcome to the twenty-first century.”
Which led to questions of the future. Will a college education be worth the investment? Are we going to develop efficient means of public transportation? Are we going to get ourselves in another war in the Middle East? Tough questions, to say the least; definitely not ones to which a twenty-three year old college student has all the answers.
But, Frank said, he was hopeful because young people like me show up to his door.
I wonder often about a line from Michel de Montaigne: “We cannot be held responsible beyond our strength and means, since the resulting events are quite outside our control and, in fact, we have the power over nothing except our will; which is the basis upon which all rules concerning man’s duty must of necessity be founded.”
If true, this line can either limit or inspire, hold one back or drive one forward to unforeseen precipices. For how do we know our own strength? Are there means out there yet to be discovered and exploited? From where do we seek guidance?
Within the quote itself lies Montaigne’s answer-- if for nothing else, we possess power over our will, and to be sure, any strength or means must come from the willpower to act, “the basis upon which all rules concerning man’s duty must of necessity be founded.” Of necessity be founded.
And in New Hampshire during primary season, that means walking up those steps, knocking on that door, pausing a moment to blow warm air into your hands, and then sharing your vision for the future with anyone who is willing to listen. The rest is beyond one’s control.
-- Alex Betley is a junior from O'Fallon, MO studying Politics, Economics, and Social Thought. He is in New Hampshire as part of a St. Olaf political science class studying the nominating process of presidential candidates.