I don't personally know, nor do I ever expect to meet in person, Edward Snowden. Still, I know who he is, and his actions have had irreversible impact on me, my work, and the industry in which I operate. Despite his Herculean presence in my field, I've been very quiet about my opinion of him lately.
"Eric, you work on the Internet. What do you think of that Snowden guy?"
"Well, I haven't given it much thought ..."
That has been a constant lie.
Playing it Safe
Religion and politics are two topics that everyone tends to avoid in otherwise civil discourse. Both are very polarized subjects, and everyone is incredibly passionate that their stance is the right one - often at the expense of informed debate to the contrary.
I've often ignored that unspoken rule and talked about my faith in public. On this blog, in conversations with others, on stage at conferences. Being unafraid to share my faith - and back up my beliefs when challenged - is key to how I identify as an individual.
But I typically play it safe when it comes to politics.
This blog has a politics category; the content of that category, though, make up less than 2% of the site's content. For a topic I care deeply enough to justify breaking it out as a discrete category of content, I've played it safe by keeping quiet far too often.
In comparison, Mr. Snowden didn't play it safe. He saw something he felt was wrong and, rather than keeping it to himself or publishing a private, internal memo, he made it public to the entire world. He sacrificed his job, a salary far higher than mine, a home in Hawaii, and the ability to ever return home because of his beliefs.
'Til now, I've been unwilling to sit in awkward conversations because I've made my political beliefs public. That just won't do.
A hero is someone who acts in spite of fear. Someone who, despite real and persistent threats to their family, home, belongings, and very life will act in a manner consistent with their beliefs. A hero is someone who sacrifices the things they cherish most for the sake of others.
A hero is a soldier, putting her life on the line in battle so we can go to sleep safe at home.
A hero is a teacher, sacrificing his salary, living conditions, and safety to travel the world and volunteer to help educate the poorest of the poor.
A hero is a student, putting her life in danger to attend school despite very real and present threats to the safety of her family, friends, and her very life.
A hero is a man standing up to corruption in government, despite warnings that, if he manages to escape from that government, he'll live the rest of his life as a fugitive.
The first three descriptions are very easy to imagine. We just celebrated Veteran's Day here in the US and proudly recognized the heroes who have fought and sacrificed for our safety and security. We often recognize teachers who've given up comfortable positions elsewhere in order to work in inner cities (Teach for America) or educate students abroad (Peace Corps).
Just this year, Malala Yousafzai was recognized for her continued devotion to children's rights and education for women around the world by being the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Yet the fourth definition feels a bit less certain. Until you realize I'm talking about men like Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington. Men who saw corruption in their government and, rather than stay silent, instilled a violent revolution against that government. They were labelled traitors and hunted as criminals. Eventually, though, they succeeded to fight back this corrupt institution and built a new government in the Americas.
It's that same government, founded on the ideals of liberty, openness of government, and resistance to tyranny against which Edward Snowden felt compelled to speak. He sacrificed a great deal to hold this government to the ideals for which it was founded, and has had his actions labelled criminal and even treasonous in response.
I my book, Edward Snowden did something heroic. He reminded complacent Americans to look with scrutiny on our purported protectors. He stuck out as one who would watch the watchmen, and he deserves credit for risking what he has already so that we can move forward to (hopefully) a better world.
I won't stay silent about this belief any longer. Nor will I about anything else I feel so deeply.