For a lot of people it was the stories of Ayn Rand. She was the person who told the story that touched their souls, helped them understand their place in the world and the world That Could Be.
For me it was another story. We were visiting my aunt and uncle. My cousin Matthew rushed me to the kitchen table, "You have to read this story!"
I raised my eyebrows, I'd never understood his taste in literature even though we both preferred the same genres.
"It's not long, read it." I took the stapled pages, obviously a high school assignment handout, knowing that in his notebook would be the accompanying "Write three paragraphs about your understanding of this story." Ick... Teachers didn't usually assign stories with elves...
"With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea..."
So now I say, "Read this, it's not long."
Ursula Le Guin - The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas
I stood at the kitchen table and read this not-long story. And at the end, hands trembling, pulled out a chair and sat and read it again. And again.
It was That Bright Shining Moment when I understood that Terrible Beauty, my world crumbled and was rebuilt in those moments. I walked through the fire, I had my moment on the Damascus Road, I beheld an old man, I emerged from the cave.
I was 16, I think. That's a good age to have some morality smash it's way into a human being's soul.
Throughout my life I was informed of the general principles of objectivism, given that they were the guiding forces of the terribly destructive "self esteem" social experiment that started on my generation, and then hideously refined with the succeeding one. I understand the comfort of those principles, given the radical social changes in such a short amount of time. There were no existing guidelines and social structures that could teach us how to understand what birth control was going to do to our society. The codified principle of following one's instincts must have been a huge relief.
I could understand objectivism, but I've always felt that objectivists can't seem to grapple with the child, and each person's responsibility for the child, to oneself, to everyone else. This question cannot be answered or contemplated using objectivist principles without a complete denial of responsibility to anyone.
We don't live in Omelas. We aren't shown the child as a rite of passage.
But the child is still here, everywhere. Do you take responsibility, understanding deep within your soul that every action has a cost, that every act of goodness, kindness, gentleness, graciousness can be a way of honoring and thanking the child?
"Theirs is no vapid, irresponsible happiness. They know that they, like the child, are not free."
I have wavered back and forth over the years, but right now at my time of life, I'm pretty sure I would not walk away. But I never stop thinking about it.
"Sometimes also a man or woman much older..." and how not?
The responsibility can be heavy.