ENGL 431 Final Reflective Essay: Slowing Down, ThinkING for and About a Better World

One of the major course concepts that is new to me and I know many of my peers is the rebranding and new meaning of what we know as thinking. Thinking or the more appropriate way to write this word in this class, thinkING takes on a whole new meaning. ThinkING is not the thinking we know. It involves so much more and has been the driving force behind so many of our posts and Beth’s responses to them. We think all the time about whatever is on our minds but to truly engage in thinkING involves so much more. It is to SLOW DOWN as Beth has preached to me so many times in response to my posts. To slow down and unpack your thoughts and lay them out for the reader in the most understandable way because what is writing if it is not comprehendible and doesn’t provoke the reader to do some of their own thinkING as well. I can say that this new definition and understanding of thinkING is what is going to free me and yet always tie me back to “the constraints of the course.” 

In my own independent and personal life, especially in a year full of chaos and uncertainty, the world seems it has been moving at an unprecedented rate. Every day there are new headlines in the media we watch or listen to, every day there are always online class assignments to attend to, and every day is unlike no other days in previous years. There is a different feeling about this year. How we long for it to be over, how it has moved at the speed of light and yet taken so long. Most every day this year my mom and I watched the news. The news has been ever changing this year, so many new headlines, so much drama in America. Amidst all this, the one thing that remained consistent was the death counter on the right side of the screen. Each day it rises higher and higher with no end in sight as we continue to break American daily death records. The continuous growth of that number is what has made this year so mentally taxing for so many people and their families. That number is what made people wish that this year would end as quickly as possible, and for me it has flown by. Flown by just like that to the tune of 312,000 deaths in the US with weeks left till the years end. That number is what makes the concept of thinkING so important to me as I proceed in my “independent life.” No longer can I sit around and be a bystander to the horrors of the world especially ones that hit so close to home such as the defacing of the George Floyd and Breanna Taylor memorials on Geneseo’s campus. I will no longer turn my back on horrors that taint our world as this pandemic has been, as the murders of Breanna Taylor and George Floyd were, and as the former President claiming abundant widespread fraud in the election is, along with so many other horrific events this year. It is my civil duty to partake in thinkING, to slow down and look at the bigger picture in everything in my life to make the best decisions and educate the people around me. It is vital for me to have my own opinions, to unpack my thinkING while providing evidence that only strengthens my case and assists others in understanding me. As I move on in life free from the constraints of this course, I will never forget the importance of slowing down in a world that always tempts you to go through the motions and turn a blind eye to the injustices in it. This course has also taught me to engages in thinkING in all aspects of life.  

ThinkING about our central course question, I have learned a tremendous amount about what binds and brings people together. This is particularly true when thinking about how beings that are completely unrelated and don’t share a plethora of commonalities are able to come together and coexist in peace. It is not always the most challenging to bind and bring people who share many common attributes together such as the students in this classroom and mostly throughout our campus. We are brought together in this class through a common interest in literature, writing, and independent thinking. We share commonalities in that we all attend the same college and need this credit for our eventual degrees. For these reasons and the understanding and forgiving community that Beth and all of us have formed, we are bound and brought together as one which is beneficial for the success of all of us as it creates the best learning environment possible. This environment we have created has taught me a lot about binding and bringing people together in that it is not the most difficult to do when so many people share commonalities in their goals and interests.  

In Dawn, the first novel in Butler’s trilogy, so many of the humans awoke by Lilith choose to resist the Oankali and their endeavors for the gene trade and control over human’s genetic makeup for the betterment of their eventual survival on Earth. This resistance by the humans leads to many deaths among them both administered by the Oankali and self-inflicted deaths once they become “resistors” on Earth. It is after so many resistors are now on Earth living lifestyles of savages stealing children and raiding villages that Gabe who had resisted the Oankali from the start begins to warm up and bind to the Oankali-human born Akin. Throughout the entirety of Dawn Gabe was never trusting of Lilith let alone the Oankali. This proceeds into Adulthood Rites as he doesn’t trust an infant Akin saying “what I want to know, is just how unhuman he is (Pg. 350).” This quote from Gabe embodies the problems that arise when trying to bind and bring people or person and Oankali for this matter together. This problem is at the core one about understanding and effort. Gabe puts in minimal amounts of effort to get to know Akin, who he really is, where he came from, and why he is there to name a few curiosities he should be feeling. Instead, Gabe almost attacks Akin with this comment and focuses strictly on the two’s differences rather than their similarities. In other words, he makes it an emphasis to point out what separates them rather than what brings them together. This is the easy route when meeting someone new or encountering someone who which you do not share many similarities with. Gabe immediately tries to establish power over Akin by pointing out why he should not be treated the same as humans. This occurs time and time again in our society today particularly when people do not share the same race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation as us. Throughout the remainder of Adulthood Rites, Gabe is forced to engage with Akin, get to know him, his intentions and what makes the two of them similar. Gabe learns that Akin is not violent in his intentions and that they both desire a better life for humankind. It is ironic that the thing that primarily binds them together is almost the same thing that Gabe says sets them apart. Akin is not entirely human so how is it possible that the thing that binds these two together is the desire for a healthy humankind? I think the answer to this lies in what makes humankind so unique being their ability to adapt, understand, and accept while disregarding differences.  

The relationship between these two comes to a climax when a fellow resistor just like Gabe named Gilbert Senn threatens to shoot Akin when he finds Gabe and Akin laying in the field close to Gabe’s freshly burning home. Gilbert Senn points his rifle at Akin to which Gabe pleads to Gilbert, “if he dies, we all die (Pg. 513).” In the end, Gabe stands with Akin and not against him. Even in the absence of Gabes wife Tate who had become very close and protective of Akin, Gabe chooses to understand Akin for everything he is and everything his intentions show he is for. Akin is for healthy humankind. Gabe like Tate wants the opportunity to have children whether that be on Earth or Mars as an Oankali experiment. In the end, Gabe and Akin are brought and bound together standing for the same thing. Gabes and Akins relationship is the ultimate testimony in the idea that binding and bringing people together involves commonalities, understanding, acceptance, adaptability, and in a sense, time.  

Slowing down my thinkING this semester, I have learned that the concepts of both harm and care are not so set-in stone. This means that ‘care’ is not always actual care and ‘harm’ may not always be harm. In other words, one person may think they are providing care but to another person, this care is seen as harm. This concept works both ways as sometimes causing harm may be considered care to another person. This concept of harm and care is played out in our world today usually due to misconceptions of reality. For example, following the shooting and killing of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin by police, 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse drove from Illinois to Kenosha to in his mind help Kenosha police handle protesters and protect property using an illegally owned AR-15 style rifle. In Rittenhouse’s mind he was providing care for the police and small business owners; however, the reality is that two people were killed because of Rittenhouse’s blindness to the situation and lack of empathy. Blakes actions that day were nothing short of harmful and should not be confused with any sort of care that the protesters were showing towards Jacob Blake and his family. This situation shows the misconceptions between what is harm and what is care that our society and the Oankali and resisters in Butler’s trilogy often replicate.  

In Butler’s trilogy, the main problems that arise when talking about the concepts of harm and care relates to the concept of consent. The Oankali are avid about the gene trade as it is as important to their species as breathing is to humans. For this, the Oankali preach that this trade is a positive for humankind and that they are caring for the humans. The primary discrepancy here comes when consent is disregarded, making a thing that the Oankali view as care appear to the humans as harm. In the case of Lilith, Nikanj impregnates her without her consent with a child incorporating Josephs sperm along with that of several Oankali. This occurs soon after Joseph is tragically murdered intriguing Nikanj think about Lilith’s mental health. Nikanj tries to comfort Lilith telling her, “you’ve been very lonely (Pg. 246).” For Nikanj, she feels as though she is caring for Lilith giving her a child to keep her company and comfort her while her fellow humans are resisting on Earth. Lilith on the other hand is immediately opposed to this newfound pregnancy saying to Nikanj, “I’m not ready! I’ll never be ready! (Pg. 246)” She is completely opposed to the idea of raising a child alongside the Oankali but over time she warms up to the idea more and more as she continuously strives to understand Oankali life and their goals for humanity. Lilith exclaiming that she will never be ready is almost assuring that Nikanj did the right thing as Lilith may have never actually had a child had she not been unknowingly impregnated by Nikanj. This instance in the trilogy exposes why the line between harm and care is so foggy. Over the course of this semester, I have learned about the misconceptions between harm and care both through Butler’s word and real-life scenarios that play out every day.  

ThinkING about my aptitude to change, I believe I have been in the habit of preparing to change and be changed for some time now. Ever since the beginning of the pandemic, the world has been tilted on its axis. How we live, what we can do, who we are able to see, where we can go, and our overall physical and mental health has all been affected. In the beginning of the pandemic all of us were asked to give up what we know and who we know ourselves to be. My teammates and I were forced to not compete for a national championship and to evacuate school immediately. I, like much of the world was asked to stay home to flatten the curve and assure the health of those who are known to be the most impacted by this disease. One of those people is my mom who is diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease and is awaiting a kidney transplant. So, I did. I stayed home and watched the world transform into what we know it as today; a world decimated by a disease both in terms of the health of millions and economically speaking. We returned to our colleges but not as we once knew them. My season was canceled again, all my classes were forced online again, and the social atmosphere was nothing like it had been. In a sense we have been groomed to change and the idea of change has become something that we do not have a lot of control over in this day in age. Nothing can ever improve without change. This idea is one that the Oankali believe to be true just like I do.   

The Oankali rely on change to live. They rely on changing humans to the benefit of both species. For this reason, they explore and promote the need for humans to warm up to the idea of change. Humans are routine dependent. We enjoy our routines, daily activities, and uniform ways of doing things day in and day out. We also don’t like to engage in the idea of changing our thinking or opinions on things. Humans are naturally dependent on a systematic way of life which is one of the primary reasons for the pandemic causing so much discrepancy over mask-wearing for example. It is also a main reason for the depleted mental health of so many people. We as a species aren’t always prepared to change and we for sure weren’t when the pandemic started, and many people still aren’t.  

In Butler’s trilogy, even after a world war where all of humanity was almost destroyed, the remaining survivors continued to put their faith in humanity and the way that they live. The resisters couldn’t give up the distant memory of how their life used to be, the routines they had, and the way humans ran the Earth. Refusing to believe that the Oankali were truly trying to help them, the resistors talked behind Lilith’s back about their beliefs of the Oankali. Lilith “heard disbelief and questioning, threats and cursing, honor and disgust.” The resistors couldn’t get themselves to believe that the life they once had was gone forever. Humanity is always afraid of change especially when there is a possibility of changing for the worst. The resisters were promised a healthier species of humans, a more civilized and more understanding one. This was nowhere near enough for so many of the resisters as they couldn’t find it in them to try to understand the Oankali, their culture, why they’re here, and their motives. Throughout the trilogy, I sympathized with the Oankali and tried to picture a world in which they were the good guys. Seemingly not surprising to me given the knowledge I have learned through events like the pandemic about the human species, this was not that difficult to do. This series had me rooting for the Oankali to restore humanity in humanity. To fix humanities biggest flaws and create a more understanding, accepting, and overall healthier species both physically and mentally. This semester has taught me to slow down and constantly partake in thinkING about my life and the constantly changing world to be the best citizen and person I can be for myself, the people I hold closest to my heart, and the world.