“We can do better. We must do better.”
– King T’Challa, Black Panther
Very much in the same spirit as last week’s quote, this is both a call and a pledge.
Coming at the end of the movie, T’Challa says this in light of what he has most recently learned.
He has learned that his predecessors, his ancestors, the kings who ruled his nation before him, may not have been entirely right in their actions. Indeed, it would seem that they were terribly mistaken. It must be said, in fairness, that they did the best they knew how, and their fears had some legitimacy to them. Yet they let their fear rule them and dictate the fates of many, including a great deal of suffering which they allowed to occur right in front them, and did nothing. There is certainly room for improvement there.
On the other hand, he just had a first-hand look at what happens when one goes too far in the other direction, becoming worse than apathetic, becoming cruel and heartless and consumed by hatred. The choice to do nothing may be timid and fearful, but it may also be considerably wiser than the choice to violently take control of all that one sees, to rip down everything that is and beat down entire populations for no better reason than one’s own anger. That was the choice T’Challa’s enemy made, and it turned him into a monster just like the people he hates, with nothing to separate him from them.
After all this, T’Challa sees that both paths are flawed, and he elects to take another path, a harder, better path, of neither hiding in safety while the world rots, nor of burning the world in rage. He chooses to open up, to share, and to work in partnership with those around him. It’s a risky plan, and probably a costly one, but it is better than either cowering or raging.
Personally, I have had enough of cowering, but I have also seen enough of raging. And I know the appeal of the latter, as well as the practicality of the former. I know that both are easy. I know both fear and anger. I know that both must be overcome, not embraced.
I know that our civilization, even our species, has a very long history of mistakes. I also know that one of the most common mistakes has been an overzealousness to correct those previous mistakes, and this leads to more mistakes.
I don’t believe we should, or need to, condemn all the previous generations. I think we just need to take what can be learned from them and do better.
And “doing better” doesn’t include simply tearing things down. We cannot expect to do anything better just by tearing down statues, buildings, governments, ideals, traditions, or anything else. That’s just another repetition of tragedies which humanity is all too familiar with.
Doing better means leaving not one or two but all of the lesser paths behind and finding a new way, a better way, a way that combines the strengths of all our options to compensate for the weaknesses. To be proactive without becoming a monster. To work together in love, not lash out in anger. To build on our history instead of ripping it down.
That is doing better.
We can, and we must, do better.