Being part of history in the making is a powerful thing. It can make you feel like you are–finally–part of something real. And of course you are. The trick is recognizing what you are part of, and responding as a human being.
Remember our dear friend Pinocchio? He was created by a nice guy (Geppeto) who was lonely, insecure, and sought love– so he made himself a son. Except that in reality, his “son” was a puppet. He wouldn’t become a real boy until he developed a conscience, recognized the power of (and reason for) his strings, and in doing so became part of the world. And Gepetto, despite hoping that his puppet would complete him, remained isolated until Pinocchio became a true boy.
Pinocchio’s road to developing a conscience was tough. At first, he just tried to act like he had a conscience. “I’ve got no strings, to hold me down, to make me fret, or make me frown…there are no strings on me…I want the world to know, nothing ever worries me…“
He enjoyed the help of his friend Jiminy Cricket who tried to remind him that he needed to get a conscience. But time and again, he’d fail to make the right decision, and inevitably forfeit his ability to control his own fate. In an effort to teach him morality, the Blue Fairy came and made Pinocchio’s nose grow and grow, until it eventually fell off. She told him “A boy who won’t be good might as well be made of wood.”
But the story sticks with the puppet, and he get a second, third, even fourth chance to figure out the difference between right and wrong. Gepetto can’t teach him–after all, his moral conscience is clearly underdeveloped or he wouldn’t have been so self-indulgent as to try and create another person simply to satisfy his own desires.
Eventually, as we know, Pinocchio figures it out. Dreams don’t come true when you wish on a star, or try to take a self-serving shortcut: they only come true when you can tell right from wrong.
In today’s world, morality is not at all abstract. It is the difference between selfishness and selflessness. Behaving in a moral fashion may hurt in the short-term, but in the long run it’s the only way to avoid being exploited, to maintain a community, and to be truly human.
Be brave. Be truthful. Be unselfish.
It’s the Wisconsin Idea.