Spreading Ideas, One Cheerio at a Time

By The Columbia Chronicle

Billy O’Keefe


With respect to all things Italian, cereal is my favorite food. I love the wacky artificial colors, the vacuum-dried marshmallows and that fake chocolicious taste. But just like a swinging bachelor can’t stand his best bud’s new wife, I hate milk. I poured it in my cereal once when I was about six years old, took one spoonful and spit it out with enough force to shatter the kitchen window. I have never made, nor will I ever make, the positive connection between the sweetened crunch of cereal and the putrid sliminess of milk. Such a wild lifestyle choice is downright strange to me, and my cereal bowl and I will have none of it. Still, I accept my friends’ and loved ones’ decisions to ruin their cereal, even if I would rather tip their bowls over and make the milk spill into their laps. That would set them straight.

If only every issue in life was this quaint. Unfortunately, the hot issues of the world are hot for a reason; even more unfortunately, there are scores of people out there who will tip your bowl over, pick it up and smack you upside the head until you agree with them.

In our quest to right the wrongs of the world, we sometimes forget to employ the very thing we aim to serve: Human nature. Change in our lives cannot happen overnight; it comes slowly, often the product of understanding the concerns of someone you love or respect. Thus, if your mother asks you to accept your gay brother, you just might. But if some stranger barks such a request while picketing around you during lunch, you might be quick to resent him rather than listen. What’s worse, the hostility of such in-your-face activism often increases the tension between conflicting parties.

The problem is that once someone really gets behind a belief, they often lose sight of how anyone could ever disagree. This leads to unrealistic expectations (“Everyone will follow me!”), which clears the way for a big fat letdown. Ideally, at this most unfavorable of forks in the road, one might accept reality and agree to disagree.

Oftentimes though, the activist either gives up on the cause (as well as society in general, democracy and what-have-you) or he/she resorts to sensational acts to “rejuvenate” (read: publicize) the cause. On several occasions, pro-lifers have sent their message via dead fetuses, and more people have been turned off than tuned in. When PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) learned that all the mailing labels in the world wouldn’t break any links in the food chain, they tried to make fishing— fishing—illegal. What’s more, they ambushed anyone who wore fur and spray-painted the expensive garments a healthy blood-red. It made headlines, sure. But the only ripple it created was in fur shops across the country, as people just sighed and purchased new coats.

And the results of all this yelling and screaming? A sore throat, but that’s it. After all the demonstrations and rainbow stickers, gay rights are still little more than an oxymoron. When Princess Diana died in a fatal car chase with the press, people everywhere roasted the media. Yet today, tabloid news is still huge, and while hatred of the media may never die, you’d need dental records to find it.

Every minute of every day, a cow somewhere is making more milk. Disturbed as I am about that, I have to just deal. Because while I have a most heated opinion on the taste of milk, I know that not everyone cares, let alone agrees. Changing somebody’s life does not always mean changing the person; stick that on a picket sign, and we just might be getting somewhere.