Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


2nd thoughts

Radical Converts part 1


Radical Coltrane

For my mon­ey, the Radical Convert is where the action is. These include peo­ple like Che Guevara, St. Augustine, Tom Cruise, Chairman Mao, Ghandi, and John Coltrane. All of these peo­ple could point to a day or even a moment when every­thing changed, each one saw the light and knelt down on their own per­son­al road to Damascus. Recovering from that blind­ing insight meant chang­ing them­selves and every­one and every­thing around them at almost any cost. If their will, deter­mi­na­tion, and com­mit­ment don’t scare you just a lit­tle then you aren’t pay­ing atten­tion or you’re one of them.

Radical Converts speed past car­ing if they seem fools to the rest of us. They dwell in some sort of per­fect per­son­al knowl­edge and every­thing around them must con­form. It may or may not be a ‘moral’ world they wish to cre­ate, but cre­ate it they will.

Your typ­i­cal Radical Convert will go over like an ill-trained leg hump­ing dog at most par­ties, but she’ll be a blast on a road trip — if your idea of a blast includes wit­ness­ing pro­found decla­ma­tions on mat­ters cru­cial through mun­dane while watch­ing the feath­ers of all with­in earshot ruf­fle. They’re like lit­tle con­flict gen­er­a­tors and frankly that can be a hel­lu­val­ot of fun if you can keep your sense of humor.

  • Take a PETA activist to the 4H pavil­ion at your local coun­ty fair and watch the feath­ers ruf­fle (pun intend­ed)
  • Take a sem­i­nary stu­dent to Denny’s Vegas and egg him or her on to preach ‘the word’ from the top of one of the tables
  • Surprise your Marxist bud­dy with a trip to the New York Stock Exchange or your free mar­ke­teer stock bro­ker pal with a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment retreat week­end

It’s not just the believ­er you want to throw into these sit­u­a­tions, but the guy you’re pret­ty sure won’t ever stop hav­ing to con­vince him­self that that thing that hap­pened when he con­vert­ed, that spe­cial won­der­ful moun­tain­top feel­ing, is actu­al­ly some­thing real­ly impor­tant and true. I’m always a bit sus­pi­cious that fired up rad­i­cal con­verts are protest­ing too much, but that’s the delight of test­ing them and putting them in sit­u­a­tions that test more than you ever could.

Seriously though, tweak­ing the noses of the con­vert­ed is some­thing too easy, like upset­ting the sin­cer­est per­son you know. I want to know what the heck makes them tick. What gears turn when they con­front the things/habits/people that their new belief tells them must be removed from their life or even the lives of all those around them? Just how did Ghandi man­age to stand tall in the face of the British Empire at the gates of the Salt mines? What made Che give up on med­i­cine and start shoot­ing anti-rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces? How did jump­ing on a couch on nation­al TV seem like the best way to get a point across for Tom Cruise? Augustine basi­cal­ly unrav­eled an empire because of his new found faith. It’s pret­ty well doc­u­ment­ed that Mao starved mil­lions of peas­ants in order to bring them the rev­o­lu­tion. Coltrane made some of the most beau­ti­ful­ly orig­i­nal jazz music in the midst of a quest to find a one­ness with a sin­gle sound — OM.

That’s the pow­er of con­ver­sion.

Whenever peo­ple tell me that peo­ple don’t change, I think of the con­verts.