October 3, 2001
Lamy explains what matters
By John Tan Daily Trojan Contributing Writer
Courage, commitment and community, are the most important elements in life, said Steven Lamy, an professor and director of the School of International Relations. Speaking to about 80 students and staff, Lamy delivered the second address in the “What Matters to Me and Why” series in the Tyler Prize Pavilion on Wednesday afternoon. Using modesty and humor, Lamy started his speech with apprehension. “I think we’re very safe in our academic cocoons,” he said, adding that it was not “very safe to talk about (himself).”
Lamy began answering the question of what matters with an answer from his sister, who is fighting ovarian cancer. “She answered, ‘That’s a silly question. Every single day and moment (matter), and I cherish them all.'” Somebody courageous, “is willing to take unpopular positions based on principles,” Lamy said. Courageous people risk in their safety, well being and quality of life for what they believe in, he said. Despite his own philosophy, Lamy has doubted his courage at times. His most courageous moment was admitting his fear, he said. Commitment is equally important “because commitment becomes courageous,” Lamy said. “There are other ways to interact with people,” said Rabbi Susan Laemmle, dean of Religious Life and director of the series. “This is one such way.” The event took on new importance, Laemmle said. “All of us are reevaluating our lives and saying, ‘Should I be doing something differently?'” she said. “So what better question to ask professors than what matters to them and why?” An ideal community is “inclusive” and “respects diversity,” Lamy said. He added that there must be “respect for the natural world and for others. No one should be unfairly advantaged or unfairly disadvantaged.”
Regarding the recent events of national importance, he expressed concern of the “temporary community.” He worried that individuals would rise up to complain about new measures taken to provide security. “We have to be willing to give up some individual freedoms,” he said. “It’s better to look at community as a family.”
He spoke of his father, a French-Canadian Catholic, who refused to force his children to be Catholic because it was not fair to his mother, he said. “This was my first notion of family,” he said. Lamy illustrated courage through stories of other people, such as a man who spent 15 years in a South African prison for teaching mathematics to black children after the sixth grade. Another man of courage was a priest and labor organizer in Taiwan, who was frequently arrested and beaten for his work with labor unions. The man later became an activist in Los Angeles on Central American issues. Lamy remembered a remark from him: “If I don’t do it, there will be less people to work for these causes.”
Lamy’s final profile of courage was a colleague of his, who had last summer become ” a human shield” in the Middle East. “He risked his life to save someone else,” he said. “He was doing it because he believed in change (and that he could) make the world a better place.”
At the end of his presentation, members of the audience had the opportunity to ask questions. Lamy discussed the courage of Barbara Lee, a congresswoman from Oakland, who was the only member of the House to vote against giving President Bush a “blank check” for defense preparations after the attacks last month. “What Barbara Lee did was an example of courage and of principles,” he said.
Lamy also spoke of the courage of educators. “Being in front of a classroom is most courageous,” he said.
Students in attendance felt that Lamy’s presentation was inspiring. Lillian Lee, a junior majoring in business administration, was a student of Lamy’s. “I’ve had him before, and he’s changed how I see things,” he said. “(This talk) helped explain things further and expand my views.” Melding academics and real life is ideal at college, said Stephanie Halgren, a sophomore majoring in international relations. “It’s valuable to get to know professors out of class,” she said “(These programs) give insight on what they teach.”
Lamy expressed repeatedly that people should “think of the ‘we’ and not just the ‘I.'” “Being a member of community is a full-time job,” he said. “You must accommodate for different viewpoints.”