I have been reading today about the death by suicide of Aaron Swartz. This amazing person was only 26. He was obviously gifted, and apparently burdened with a sense of responsibility to our community, in the broad sense, that he could not help but act on. He applied his formidable talents and insights to make significant contributions, to make things better in the world, and in some unconventional ways – something many people will never even dream to do.
And indeed why would they? For his efforts to free up information in service to all, Swartz was facing felony charges. A treasure in his own right, a person whose value and potential to us all was immense, was being fenced in, cornered, with intent to crush and imprison. How is it that a person with innovative, positive contributions bursting at the seams was not treasured and protected, but instead pinned down and threatened with jail? What exactly is it that we value?
While the federal prosecutor pursuing Swartz apparently boiled it down to “stealing is stealing,” somehow that same yardstick has not been applied to, say, Wallstreet bankers, who very clearly did not have the greater good in mind like Aaron did. And they’re just the first ones that happen to come to mind.
In Aaron’s tragic death, and the loss of his amazing potential, I think we must pause to consider our roles in this. We cannot leave the possibility of positive change to these singular brave people. It is simply too much. It is not enough to watch from a distance. We must gather behind them, and be the wind beneath their wings.
We must be willing to step out ourselves. We need to identify our true values, and stand by them. We need to use our gifts in their service.
I am sad beyond words about Aaron. Obviously, I do not know the whole story. I do know that we have lost a beautiful person – his brilliance and his creativity and his personal commitment. His fight for what is right, and, indeed, his battle with depression – those fights are our own, they are everyone’s.