Gardner: Get Uncomfortable

It’s time for Millennials to take action against what angers them.

by Adam Gardner | 1/12/17 12:16am

When I was 11 years old, I had an irrational fear of sailing. I didn’t like the way the wind jerked the boom violently in irons, it filled me with an overwhelming anxiety. This changed when my summer camp counselor taught me a lesson that has stayed with me for over two decades.

“The worst thing that can happen is that you capsize, and you know how to right the boat,” he said.

He took me out in a tiny Sunfish onto the choppy water of Lake Winnipesaukee, a storm looming on the horizon over Mount Washington. Once we were far from shore, he capsized the boat. He watched as I placed my weight on the centerboard and flipped the hull. Then he had me take control of the boat. With the mainsheet in my left hand and the rudder in my right, I heeled the vessel until we were standing nearly upright. As the afternoon sun gave way to a deep gray sky and fat drops of rain began to fall, I recall feeling a liberating sense of empowerment.

Since then, the defining moments of my life have always been the ones in which I was challenged: my first night sleeping alone in a village in Jordan, being pulled over in a civilian taxi cab by Israeli security forces in the West Bank, the rigors of basic training at Fort Jackson, the first time I told someone they had cancer. These experiences led me to reexamine my core values. They helped mold me into who I am. They will make me a better person, a better doctor and a better American.

In that light, the following is my call to action for the future American leaders at Dartmouth: get off of Facebook. Step out of your dormitory and start walking in any direction until you find something that makes you uncomfortable. You shouldn’t have to walk very far. When you find it, cherish it. Don’t shy away from it. Don’t retreat to a safe place where you can commiserate among friends. For God’s sake, don’t ask a baby boomer to fix it for you. If it’s wrong, confront it and change it. If it’s right, learn from it and accept it. New Hampshire is a microcosm of our country’s political woes. The state just elected a Democratic senator and a Republican governor. You are not isolated — the two Americas surround you. Read up on burgeoning state policy. If you agree with it, show your support. If you don’t, rail against it until you collapse in frustration. Just don’t rail on the internet. No one who matters is listening to you there.

If confrontation isn’t for you, then you can still demonstrate your American values through volunteerism and public service. You need not gaze inward, overseas or even toward another state for a worthy cause. New Hampshire has an opioid crisis, a mental health crisis, a Veteran’s Affairs crisis, a poverty crisis and an education crisis. Just pick a cause and offer a helping hand. Show your fellow citizens through kindness and objectivity that the American spirit is alive and well, that it is magnanimous and that it transcends partisanship, identity politics and lofty ideals. In doing so, you will find the most patriotic versions of yourselves.

I urge Dartmouth’s student government, its fraternities and sororities, the numerous organizations fighting for diversity, the LGBTIQ community, the Dartmouth Undergraduate Veterans Association, the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, student service organizations, faculty and administrators: acknowledge the community you share. Meet it face to face and show it that America is great and always has been. Ask the community what it needs and then deliver. Don’t demand anything in return.

It’s time to get uncomfortable. It’s time to take to the stormy waters of uncertainty. When you capsize, put your weight into the centerboard and right the boat. Stop treading water in hope of a rescue. Your community and your country impatiently await your leadership.

Adam Gardner is a fourth year medical student at the Geisel School of Medicine. He is an officer in the United States Army and a Peace Corps Returned Volunteer.