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A professor made me cry today.

The fate of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who was accused of hacking and committed suicide, moved the author to tears
Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event in 2008. (photo credit: Fred Benenson, CC-BY via wikipedia)
Aaron Swartz at a Creative Commons event in 2008. (photo credit: Fred Benenson, CC-BY via wikipedia)

I know what you’re thinking. Either tell the department head or why were you awake during the lecture to begin with?

But there is a reason why I decided to sit down to call public attention to this professor… This professor who made me cry today.

Sad (or happy) to say, I wasn’t reliving my four years spent at Yeshiva University.

Instead, the professor in question is Lawrence Lessig, and I was watching one of his recorded TED speeches.

The reason why I watched this video was the very same reason that I cried. Because he talked about his friend Aaron Swartz.

Aaron Swartz

Since it is no simple feat for a professor to pull at the heart strings, there must have been something specific that caused this to happen. After all, professors are very precise people.

Indeed, Lessig’s wording was very clear. He said that Aaron’s friends failed him because, “we let him lose [a] sense of hope.” So Lessig is now an activist in addition to a professor, all because a person that he considered like a son, once asked him to become an activist.

Without going into the rest of the speech, which went into the topic of campaign finance reform, the lesson that Aaron taught Lessig is one of the most profound thoughts imaginable. No that’s wrong. It is actually the most important thought imaginable … that idealism combined with activism can change the world.

This thought alone is something any idealist can rest comfortably with at night (including the writer of this article). Although often labeled unrealistic, a wide-eyed dreamer, it is precisely the people with their eyes wide open that have their sights set on a better future.

For years I didn’t know what to make of my tendency towards idealism. I majored in Philosophy not because I thought it was impractical, but because I thought that somehow I would do something practical with it. But time and again, I was confronted with a world that thought differently than me, and that made me lose hope — both in myself and in the way I viewed the world.

But over time, I managed to overcome the criticism, the voices that tried to discredit my aspirations as being practical. So now I write. Even if no one were to read, I write.

The power of thought is something I’ve written about often. Because, like Aaron, I believe that spreading ideas and knowledge is the greatest form of activism we have. In addition to the articles which I’ve written about Aaron (which remain the most personally important to me), I wrote about disruptive thought some here.

But in addition to the therapeutic effects of writings articles like these, please know that there is no reason to lose hope. Even if the world seems like a dark and wayward place, please remember that your one idea can light up the world.

Dedicated in the memory of Aaron.


About the Author
Yonatan Gordon is a student of Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh, and co-founder of
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