Earlier this year, one of the mainstream media networks was planning to do a special on my retirement from neurosurgery. They recorded a lecture I gave at my medical school, as well as one given at a high school in Detroit. They also accompanied me to my old stomping grounds, where many of the neighbors came out to greet me and talk about old times.
I was struck by some of their comments, including the notion that I always had lofty, unrealistic dreams, but that they would enjoy hearing about them anyway. Someone else told me that people would always murmur among themselves when I approached, "Here comes Mr. Know-It-All. Let's get out of here." While the network decided not to air the special for some reason unknown to me, it was still a valuable opportunity for me to catch up with old acquaintances.
Similarly, some years ago, I attended the 25th reunion of my high school graduating class. The thing that struck me the most was that many of the "really cool" guys were dead. Many of my other classmates told me how proud they were of my accomplishments and asked me if I remembered how they used to encourage me. Of course I did not — no such encouragement took place — but people's memories tend to change over time.
Many of my fellow members of the Horatio Alger Society of Distinguished Americans have recounted similar stories of being regarded as different and not always being part of the "in" crowd when they were growing up. The Horatio Alger Society inducts 10 to 12 new members each year. These are people who grew up under very difficult circumstances and went on to achieve at the highest levels of their respective endeavors. Many of their names would be quite familiar to the public. Are their stories aberrant, or are we truly the captains of our own destiny?
In the game of chess, pawns are just used for the purposes of the royal pieces. In real life, many in power selfishly use "pawns" — average citizens — while at the same time vociferously proclaiming that they are the only ones looking out for the interests of the pawns, who happily follow their commands, thinking that this "royal" contingent has their interests in mind. However, in a chess game, a pawn can become any one of the royal pieces, if it can make it to the other side of the board. The opponent will do almost anything to keep one from reaching its goal, because that would interfere with the power structure. If they can keep the pawns on their side of the board, where it is much safer, the status quo can be maintained.
Although no analogy is perfect, it is pretty easy to see the point here. By keeping large groups of Americans complacent and afraid of challenging authority, the position, wealth and status of those in power is secure. The last thing they want is for independent-thinking citizens to realize that this country was designed for them and not for an arrogant ruling class. They dread the possibility of people scrutinizing their words and deeds, and holding them accountable for the same. By using strong-arm tactics and a sheepishly compliant news media, the supposed guardians of truth, they have become very successful at pawn control.
I can't remember how many times during my medical career I was told, "You can't do that; no one has done that before" or "Do you think all the incredibly bright people who have preceded you didn't think of that?" Certainly, if I had listened to those comments instead of critically analyzing the problems and using the triumphs and mistakes of others to produce innovative solutions, my career path would have been considerably different. We have these magnificent brains with outstanding reasoning ability in order to be creative and to critically analyze what we hear and see. We must stop acting like pawns and start acting like masters of our own destiny.
We should not listen to those who say there is too much corruption for honesty and common sense to succeed. We cannot believe that our enemies are too powerful to combat, and we should not accept that the media will never change back to being stalwarts of integrity and truth. We can play the role of nice little pawn or we can be smart, courageous and move out of our comfort zone to accomplish something truly great for our future. It might be a lonely journey at first, but eventually others will see the light. We will shed the pawn mentality and be promoted to the position of proud and independent citizens of America.
Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University. To find out more about Ben Carson and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com.