“Let me show you something” says Vinny, played by Joe Pesci, in my favorite movie, “My Cousin Vinny”. He has just driven from New York to Alabama to rescue his young cousin, Billy, who has been wrongfully accused of murder. Vinny has been studying to be a lawyer for many years, but only recently passed his qualification exam. Despite his lack of courtroom experience Billy’s fate is now in his hands. In this classic scene Vinny is trying to win Billy’s trust. He pulls a playing card out of his pocket, an ace of spades. He explains that the prosecution needs to build a strong case out of solid evidence, like building a house of bricks. Using the card, he describes how “he’ll show you the bricks, he’ll show you that they got straight sides, how they got the right shape, he’ll show them to you in a very special way so that they appear to have everything a brick should have.” Then he lays the card flat, and shows that when you look at it from the right angle, you see that these bricks are actually paper-thin; the bricks are an illusion. In one suave move, he shows that the card’s face is now a Joker. 20 years ago, in this movie, Vinny perfectly summarizes a very modern issue.
Polemic topics are headlining the news; meanwhile large scale crises including war, immigration, and global warming are overwhelmingly present. We are often convinced or manipulated to blindly believe things are a certain way, and it becomes hard to find clarity. Nevertheless, problems of this nature demand quick decisive action, namely, a resolution. The controversial problems of today’s world call for a new plan, they demand innovation. But in order to coordinate an effective resolution we must first decide where we stand. To form our opinion, we have to dissect and explore the issues. In my experience, problems worth solving do not have an obvious solution and are often the most controversial, but to discover the truth one must look from every angle instead of accepting what appears or is said to be true.
This practice was deeply ingrained in my education. My high school English Literature and History courses were taught from a minority point of view. We examined wars, conflicts, revolutions, scandals, and economics through a non-traditional lens. For example, in learning about the age of imperialism and colonization, we studied it through the eyes of the indigenous communities whose homeland was invaded, rather than a heroic explorer who “discovered new territory”. We were not taught history by memorizing what happened; rather we really learned it, analyzed it, turned it upside down and exercised our own critical thinking and judgement. Later, when selecting a college, it was important for me to find one which promotes a similar method of learning.
I have known that I wanted to work in human rights for a long time, and decided to study peace. The Peace Studies major is ironically named, as we primarily examine cases of violence and oppression as a means to craft effective solutions and prevention strategies. Sometimes it is the uncommon approach which uncovers the most valuable information. Changing your point of view can bring new clarity, revealing a seemingly obvious solution to the world’s most pressing issues.
The World Health Organization estimates that approximately 2 million children die each year of diarrheal illnesses (CNN). The majority of these children live in impoverished communities where hygiene is not a prioritized expense. I would like to highlight an individual whose story exemplifies how creative thinking sparked an innovative idea for an important cause. Derreck Kayongo, originally from Uganda, has firsthand experience with the horrors of civil war and refugee camps. He remembers that often in the camps, disease was far more deadly than the war itself. Years later while staying at a hotel in the USA, he noticed that every morning his soap was replenished. He confronted the concierge explaining he did not need a fresh bar every day, but was politely informed that it was hotel policy. He learned that each year hundreds of millions of soap bars are thrown in the garbage in North America alone (CNN). Kayongo founded the Global Soap Project, he and his team collect gently used soap bars from hotels and recycle and distribute them to low income nations such as Haiti, Kenya, and Uganda. For Kayongo soap is a “first line of defense” against child mortality, helping people fight disease. It is stories like these that convince me that awareness of multiple perspectives is essential to innovation.
Sources and More Information
To watch the card scene from “My Cousin Vinny”, visit the link below:
For more information on the Global Soap Project please visit:
CNN Heroes features Global Soap Project:
Written for Intercultural Success by Elena Ippolito, student at Goucher College, USA, “Peace Studies paired with French Language and Culture”