The Herd

“While I thought I have been learning how to live, I have been learning how to die.” -Leonardo da Vinci

We took a walk late Wednesday afternoon down Gough Street and stopped on the corner of Hayes. An elderly man holding a Street Sheet wished us a good afternoon, while a young woman wearing Warby Parker shades and airpods almost walked directly into us because she was looking down at her iPhone instead of the path in front of her.

We stopped on the southeast corner of the intersection. “Let’s stop here for a minute.” I asked the small group of interns, “What do you see?” They’ve come to expect these questions from me. They understand their response isn’t really about their literal answer, but a critical analysis of the world around us.

I shared my reflection: “We see different types of people on this corner, but they have share something in common. They’re all on their way somewhere and becoming more or less of something.” The interns look confused, which is fine. The observation I’m about to offer is one of a poetic contempt of a social order that is meant to reduce as a means of liberation.

The man with the street sheet, the elderly woman with the designer glasses, the teenager with mounds of makeup, and the young couple pushing a stroller. All people worthy of the intrinsic value granted by God, all creations of an intelligent universe, all willing participants in the system they were designed to support.

“The majority of people we see here are on their way somewhere. They likely live in a place they didn’t build and going to a job they didn’t create to afford a life that leaves them with a void they’ve trying with fill. They’ve been told what language to use, what to wear, what to believe and aligned themselves with a group that supports those interests.”

I look into the eyes of my interns, they have gone from deep attention to a distant gaze. I’ve seen this look before. It’s the one where we drift into a self-appraisal and personal reflection. It’s as if we’ve gone from being in a crowded place to alone in front of a mirror trying to decide if we’re okay with the ensemble we’ve chosen and at the same time realizing we’ve never quite been okay.

“I’m no better than anyone on this corner. None of us get to opt out of this truth, but we have a choice in how we participate. We make that choice everyday. We didn’t have a choice in coming into being, but we do have a choice in what we become. We are all on our way somewhere, becoming something. The question for us to consider is what are we becoming?”

We continue walking. They share about themselves, I share as well. We’re being honest. This isn’t the common exchange for interns in an office. As interns they come to gain experience and learn how to meet expectations in an office setting, but those aren’t the lessons necessary to transform a vacant lot into an office building or an empty office into a business. That requires a different education and a particular mindset.

I hear the motivation in their voices. They want to be builders and I want that for them, but the only judge we have is time.

Book Recommendation: The Fountainhead. Car Guys vs. Bean Counters

Stevon Cook