A Better World

Guest post by Vijay Shah, Co-Founder & Director of The Humanist Academy

It is such an incredible and indescribable feeling. Every parent can attest to it. When your newborn baby has just entered the world, and you are holding him in your arms for the first time. It seems like the entire world has just stopped for a few seconds. The moment has somehow frozen in time. You lose yourself in him and forget about everything leading up to that point: the months of anticipation, the hours of agony, the intensity, the struggle, the exhaustion… everything vanishes. 

Just a few months ago, we were blessed with a baby boy. I can remember holding him for the first time like it was yesterday. It doesn’t matter whether it is your first child or your third, it never gets old. I vividly remember being so incredibly engrossed in that moment; in my hands, I held this tiny human being, a bundle of joy, hope, and infinite potential. Why was it so breathtaking? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but I’m guessing it had something to do with the tremendous power of human connection, the power of family, and the power of love. 

For some reason though, as my mind obsessed over his arrival, doubt started to creep in. He had just entered the world, but what kind of world was awaiting him? Was it hopeful or dreadful? I started to worry. As the first few days passed by, pessimism started to take over. The sea levels are rising, I thought. Major cities across the world are facing water shortages. Millions of tons of plastic are being dumped into the ocean each year. Human consumption and wastes are outrageously imbalanced and disproportionate in nature. Mass shootings have become all too common. News and media outlets are not only extremely negative and appeal to the worst of our human instincts, but they also have become so incredibly polarized that it has become almost impossible to distinguish the truth from biased agendas and opinions. Schools and hospitals are just massive factories where human beings equate to quantifiable commodities. Role models, heroes who embody virtues, stand for principles, and live for higher ideals have become harder and harder to find… Is this the kind of world that awaits my newborn baby?

But when I thought all hope might be lost, as I deeply worried about my son’s future, I entered the magical studio of THA. What did I see? I saw the entire studio enter pin-drop silence during core skills and then grow loud and rambunctious during Quest and Free Time. I saw all fifty-four of our Heroes engaging in meaningful work. I saw a curiosity and a zest for learning, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before in my 15+ years working in schools as a teacher, professor, and administrator. I saw older Warriors taking out time to build relationships with younger Warriors, and younger Warriors being grateful for it. I saw them journey inwards during morning meditation, and reflect deeply upon their day during closing group. I saw thought-provoking Socratic discussions that put our Heroes in real-world situations and force them to think critically about their choices, “Imagine you were Marie Curie, would you risk your life working with hazardous materials in the pursuit of world-changing scientific discovery, or would you play it safe?” 

I heard insights from young Heroes that would astonish any adult willing to listen, “Mr. Vijay, I don’t think I deserve the full points for this challenge because it was pretty easy for me, so I’ll just submit it for half the points.”  I saw brave heroes who held their peers accountable and rejected victimhood. I saw laughter, tears, joy, and struggle. I saw mistakes, accompanied by the courage to accept those mistakes and the resilience to overcome. I saw tremendous growth, holistic growth. I saw integrity, focus, curiosity, courage, appreciation, persistence, rigor, diligence, warmth, compassion, and love all come together in one place. I saw at THA, a world I thought only existed in a dream. I saw hope. In a world plagued with problems, I saw a solution. 

I thought again about my son and the type of world that awaits him. He gets to be a part of this world.

How incredibly fortunate he is. 

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