Cornel West is known as one of the foremost theorists on race, communication and sociology. His book, Hope on a Tightrope, underscores his articulation of social progress through tidbits of wisdom on subjects ranging from freedom to leadership to philosophy. West guides the reader to ascertain the structure of meaning through quotations that provoke thoughts and critical thinking. In Hope on a Tightrope, there are several topics that are relatable to my own experience. These topics were all people are equal in the eyes of God, a person achieves their best self through the foundation of family and family and friends provide the groundwork of love in our lives.
God has become the central driving force in societal thought. While there are a plethora of different spiritualities that are practiced, spirituality is what keeps individuals on an even keel. It can be said that "we are each made equal in the eyes of God" (West 69) meaning that what we perceive as the creator has made us each different, but the spiritual consciousness is what makes us equal. One can examine this thought in several different ways, but the most important thought that must be pulled out from West’s statement is that regardless of whether you are poor or rich or middle class for that matter; God created each and every one of us equally and our enrichment in life is based solely on our decisions. What we become is the result of our actions and choices. Jesus, son of God, said that if we have faith the grain of a mustard seed, in essence we can go far as individuals because God looks at the heart, not what is in a man’s pocketbook.
In my own experience, I have found that the more thought and decisiveness that I put into something, the better accomplishment I achieve. Essentially, I can have just as much achievement, money and fame as the next individual who has made it. My set of circumstances is not unique under the eyes of God given the pervasive thought that in the eyes of God, we are all equal. We are all his children, for all intents and purposes is what West is expressing.
America, for West is what has made God into something that he is not. With Christianity being the prominent religion at least in this country, we make God moldable. This is what has caused many difficulties that this country has encountered from war to racism. Christians, or rather this Christian country has tried to fight the problem of evil. “For Christians, the problem of evil means: how does one respond to, resist all forms of evil, especially institutional evil?” (West, pg. 77). But what is the true definition of evil and isn’t evil different depending on one’s outlook. In observations of my own experience, each person has a varying definition on what evil is. This is what has led to much of the bloodshed that is stained on this nation. The question that I have often asked myself is what was the point of slavery, the Holocaust and the various wars that this country has encountered if we truly believe we are equal under the eyes of God? The fact of the matter is that we use God when it suits our purposes and disregard God when it suits us. Perhaps, West was making a greater statement with that word of wisdom than just spirituality should put us all on equal par, equal footing.
Much of our spiritual foundation about God and ourselves comes as a result of how we were brought up – our family. “A compassionate family affirms the best of who you are even in the worst of circumstances” (West 90). While the family doesn't necessarily create who we are, that is God's job; the family does bring out and reiterate what God has created. Much of what we learn about life is through the foundation of family, therefore, the family that we are raised in must have the right thinking about the world and how we will be treated once we are put into it. “Relationships are an essential part of life” (West 103). This is the whole birds of a feather flock together context. The people that we grow up with hang out with and interact with on a frequent or daily basis will undoubtedly affect how we see life and ourselves. Our family can also affect what kind of religion we practice. Thus, the spiritual foundation is derived from the family. It can be said that most of the people that I know practice the same religion their mother and father did, thereby reinforcing West’s thought on spirituality and family. Family also affects how we will turn out somewhat. It is our mother and father who make our educational decisions as to where we go to school, at least up until we opt to go to college or graduate school.
Most children today go to public school, catholic school or private school because their parents did, or because their parents want to send them there. The experiences both inside and outside of the classroom, that we as kids go through are a reflection of what choices and decisions our parents often make for us at an early age. “When we’re talking about education, it can’t just be classroom school as important as that is. We need to think also of the example of author, James Baldwin, and the brilliant artist who mentioned him. Baldwin said, “there is no me without Beauford Delaney” (West 102). West was pointing out that Baldwin did not become who he was solely on his own shoulders but was influenced heavily by Delaney. This is why it is essential that we are brought up in a compassionate family that brings out the best in who we are irrespective of the circumstances that we endeavor to get through.
Finally, West, adds that family and the friendships that we establish in life are what we gain our love from. It can be said that people are hungry for love, looking for love and nurturing the love that they currently receive. In my own experience, I am moving through each of the three. My family and friendships have continually been the basis for the love that I have received. Family and friends are what keep us in good times and bad times. This foundation is essential in us enduring the circumstances of life. “Even Jesus needed disciples. He needed his friends even when he knew they were cowardly and would betray him” (West 132). Jesus understood that no matter how long his life would be, that he needed the comradery of friendship to accompany him and get him through the dire and vast circumstances that life would deal him.
While not comparing myself to Jesus, I can think of one significant experience where friendship was necessary. I was going through a terrible breakup in a relationship and my friends were there to guide me through it and give me advice on how best to get over the hurt of having loved someone. Without my friends helping me through that time, I am not sure if I could’ve made it through that experience. While, my faith in God is strong and I have a strong spiritual foundation, sometimes you need the tangible manifestation of people to talk to. Prayer is helpful and necessary but speaking your mind to another human who is in the flesh is important as well. My friends said to me like West writes in Hope on a Tightrope “I can’t wait to help others. Why? Because it’s a beautiful thing” (West 153). Helping others and serving others, which is what my friends did for me is the epitome of friendship and love. It is the undercurrent of what love is.
There was another instance where I showed love to another. A homeless man was on the street begging for money. In the back of my mind, there was a part of me that said that this man could go out and find a job and perhaps get back on his feet. I initially asked myself, should I bother with helping him especially after hearing so many stories about people who pretend to be homeless in society just to obtain money. I pushed aside those thoughts and handed the man a $5-dollar bill and told him “God bless you,” as I did it. The man replied, “God bless you too.” I felt a feeling of love and peace. Not because I had given the man money, but because I did what I felt was the right thing to do in that particular circumstance. West writes, “you must be willing to examine the quality of your service to others. Do you find joy in your service to others?” (West 153). In that particular experience, I had to ask myself if I would get joy out giving that man $5 and if that had been me begging, how would I have felt with people not acknowledging me as fellow brethren in need? I can say that my spiritual foundation that was instilled in me by my family was the mechanism that made me give the many the $5.
I was brought up in the Christian thought and that Jesus died for my sins and paid the price on the Cross. The teachings of Jesus and my faith in God and in my family have helped me make some of the most difficult decisions I could’ve ever made. A pivotal decision that needed making was the decision on what I wanted to do with my life or at least consider a few options. My family gave me the positives and negatives associated with each of the potential majors that I had selected but in the end the decision fell into my hands. I wholeheartedly believe that much of my decision came as a result of their influence and my own understanding of how successful I could be at each of the majors considered. West writes, “love and service are a vocation, not a profession” (West 152). Essentially, my family helped me sort out an important decision because of the love they had for me, and in wanting to see me succeed. They were not obligated to do it so to speak but wanted to do it because of how they were raised and because of their love for me.
Hope on a Tightrope by Cornel West relates significantly to my experiences as an individual. It is as if West wrote the book based on the experiences of all of us. We all need faith in our lives as a spiritual foundation, we all need to understand that under God we are equal and it is this equality that allows us to trudge through the joys and pains of life and we all need family and friendship as vehicles to help us become who we are proverbially destined to be. Cornel West’s book forces the reader to ask themselves what is important to them, by providing kernels of wisdom sprinkled through reflection on his own life. Hope on a Tightrope pierces through the prism of individual introspection and rumination to help us all understand the important of relatives, equal opportunity and conviction.
West, Cornel. Hope on a Tightrope: Words & Wisdom. 3rd. Smiley Books, 2011.