Not long ago I stood in front of a group of teenagers. I spoke with the girls first and asked them if they thought pornography was a problem for the men in their lives (friends, boyfriends, brothers, even dads). Without hesitation, they all agreed. I asked how often they saw pornography accessed. Their answer: on a daily basis–on cell phones, computers, magazines, movies, the list went on and on. We spoke at some length about the need to stand against things that offend us, as well as the need to look out for the men we love to help them avoid things that might otherwise enslave them.

I then dismissed the girls, and the boys shuffled in. Before they could even settle into their seats, I asked them to raise their hands if they had ever looked at pornography. I was the first to raise mine. At first, this shocked them. I watched their anxious eyes glance back and forth and their bodies shift in their chairs, and then, one by one, every boy in that room raised his hand. “Look around,” I said. “Don’t think for one minute that you are alone in this fight. We are all in this together!” I cannot accurately describe the feeling of relief that filled the atmosphere. Now that the “elephant in the room” had been acknowledged, we were then able to honestly and openly talk about pornography as a legitimate struggle for lots of people. More importantly, each one of those boys–including me–left that room stronger for our discussion. We were suddenly aware of an army of other men–young and old–who were in our corner.

“If you need help–” I told them in so many words, “no matter the problem, I want you to know you can come to me. I will never judge you for what you have done. Heaven knows I’ve had my fair share of struggles and made many a mistake. But it is not for me to judge any one. In fact, I do not believe we should be defined by the things with which we have struggled, or the things with which we struggle still; rather, let us say of ourselves and others: ‘yes, we’ve overcome or are trying to overcome addiction, depression, abuse, illness, or the like–what of it?! We glory in our struggles only inasmuch as they have led us to the gateway of progress, and in that journey we have found community, peace, love, and joy!”

Certainly, in that room then with those girls and boys, these high ideals existed. It did not matter what glaring differences divided us (race, culture, personality, religion, etc.), for that one moment we were united by struggles common to humankind and, more importantly, by the victories and the possibility of future victories, also common to humankind.

In a world divided by so many things, now more than ever, I believe, we need to find reasons to come together. May we be united by the universality of our struggles and those victories that surely must follow. Above all, no matter who we are, I believe our struggles are the great common denominator that can and should bring us together. I had an uncle, for example, who was a drug addict. But in spite of this terrible vice, which eventually took his life, he was a great man with a good heart. Now tell me, directly or indirectly–it doesn’t matter–can you relate? Do you know someone who has struggled with drugs or perhaps is struggling now. Maybe you once struggled to be free and clean. Cousins, friends–I know many who have likewise fought. To the stranger, they are faceless, nameless hooligans! To me, I who know their face and have felt the sincerity of their heart in spite of their sins, know better, for I know them by name. Let us not forget the humanity in each and every person. We must look beyond the facade and see in their eyes, a child no different than you or me.

The same, I believe, should be said about anybody no matter the nature of their struggles, whether of a moral nature, like stealing or adultery, or of unpreventable tragedies like serious illness, cancer, poverty, depression, or death. The list of things with which any of us can struggle at a moment’s notice is long and, perhaps, unending. But I do not wish to focus on the struggle itself. It is easy, I know, to feel shame for mistakes we have made or things done to us. It is easy to feel anger for sickness or disaster that ravished our lives without consent. “Why me?” we have no doubt asked. “Why now?” “Is there purpose in suffering?” “And if so, to what end are we destined to suffer?”

To end, I say in reply: I do not know why you have had to go through what you have gone through, but I do know you are not alone; I do not really know what the great eternal purpose of suffering is, but I do know we can find purpose in sharing our experiences, and helping others through similar struggles; and I do not know when there will be an end to world-wide suffering, but I do know that there will be an end, a thousand ends, in fact, to a thousand struggles. Those ends, as they makes themselves manifest in our daily lives, are called victories. And above all, I know this: we all have them, and they are worth fighting for and remembering!

– Arthur Thomas Lee, Safety Provisions, Inc., Owner

V