The time for action is now

Published 11:00 pm Thursday, February 6, 2014

Imagine this. You’re floating in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a small boat with no food and no water. You’re alone—a little blip amidst a sea of blue. Do you think you would have the will to survive?

While it may sound like a scene from Life of Pi, a man from El Salvador is alleged to have survived a shipwreck and 13 months adrift in the Pacific before washing up on the shore of the Marshall Islands earlier this week.

Some critics are calling his story in to question, but, I for one, choose to believe the story. Even if it comes to pass that the man, Jose Salvador Alvarenga, manufactured or misrepresented his story, I don’t think the truth of the story actually matters. What Alvarenga’s story represents to me is a physical manifestation of human willpower.

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I remember sitting at the breakfast table one morning when I was still a kid. I couldn’t have been more than seven or eight at the time. I was finishing my breakfast and getting ready for school when my dad folded up the newspaper he was reading, looked at me and said, “It takes a strong will to succeed in this world.”

At the time, I had no idea what he was talking about, but, now that I’ve grown up some, I’m starting to understand what he meant. It’s practically impossible to be successful in the world without putting in hard work.

Perhaps this is the reason why the world, America included, has struggled so much in recent years. From the fall of the Soviet Union up to the mid-2000s, America enjoyed the position of the world’s eminent superpower. The economy was chugging along nicely. American schools were turning out quality students. The political climate was less partisan, and America was respected diplomatically around the world.

Since then, however, America’s position has changed. While the economy has improved recently, it is still recovering from the Great Recession. American students’ test scores have fallen in relation to their peers across the world. America’s diplomatic relations with the world have deteriorated to the point that Vladimir Putin basically dictated terms on Syria.

Maybe things became too easy from 1991-2005 for America, and, now that the world has become a more competitive place, Americans no longer know how to compete. I don’t think that’s the case. Americans have always been a resourceful, willful, prideful people.

The problem is that we, as a culture, have become satisfied with mediocrity. Nobody, when he is young, strives to be mediocre. He always strives to be the best. On an individual level, very rarely are we satisfied with mediocrity, but, as a country, we often find ourselves complacent with being average.

There is no reason that American students should be firmly in the middle of the pack when it comes to test scores. During the Winter Olympics in Sochi this month, America, Russia and Germany will battle one another to see who will win the most gold medals. We do not accept mediocrity from our athletes, but we’re fine accepting mediocrity from our students.

When the Seattle Seahawks blew out the Denver Broncos in the Super Bowl last weekend, we didn’t praise the Broncos for playing in the game; we praised the Seahawks for having a dominating performance.

Why do we have this double standard when it comes to intellectual and financial success? When a high school student drops out of school, we make excuses. We call meetings and write articles about the problem, but, rarely, if ever, do we ever take action. That’s what we need to do—take action.

In 1862, Otto von Bismarck faced a perilous political situation. He was attempting to unite the various German kingdoms under one empire, but the Prussian government refused to grant King Wilhelm I’s request for additional military spending. It was then that Bismarck gave his most famous speech—Blood and Iron. He close the speech with this statement: “Not through speeches and majority decisions will the great questions of the day be decided—that was the great mistake of 1848 and 1849—but by iron and blood.”

In 1871, King Wilhelm I was crowned emperor of the German Empire at Versailles.

While America does not face a crisis like the one facing Prussia, maybe we should take a stance similar to Bismarck when tackling our own problems. Problems are rarely solved only through discourse. Problems require action to be taken.

It all comes back to the question posed at the beginning of this article. If you were in Jose Salvador Alvarenga’s position, would you have the will to survive? Would you be willing to take the necessary actions?