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For Every Action
By Elizabeth Horner
12th Grade Student of Greenville High School 
September  19, 2011 

Science is only interesting when I can see its real life applications. Newton’s claim that “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” meant that when I sat on one end of the teeter-totter, the other side would shoot skyward. Without going into details, at age nine, that was some pretty useful stuff and I had to agree with teachers… this guy was smart! 

Over time, more of his theorems became very valuable. I have often returned to reflect on a particular one that said, “An object at rest will remain at rest unless acted upon by an earthly force, and an object in motion will remain in motion unless acted upon by an earthly force”.  This stirred in my mind pictures of tsunami waves, cyclones that have destroyed homes, great wildfires--- that were too powerful to be stopped by men alone. Of course, that wasn’t exactly Newton’s purpose. He was describing the motion of an item when it is unaffected by gravity, but I think he would support also the idea of starting something that can’t be stopped. 

Often, the downfall of people and cultures is spread out over a length of time. The changes are sometimes so subtle that everyone pretends not to notice what is amiss. Is it because they are afraid that the sound of their own voice, pointing to a sign of trouble, will find other voices, will start a movement, and cause a world that appeared to be at rest to suddenly leap into action? 

It reminds me of that old riddle: A tree falls in a forest with no-one around to hear it. Does it make a sound? Or a line of dominos crashed down, but no-one was watching.  Does the chain reaction still occur? 

Human beings are always inching towards some goal, some future life that is different from what we have today.  And the earth--- even though it moves too slowly for our eyes to track--- it is constantly spinning and hurtling us through space. We can spend forever telling ourselves that the dominos won’t fall unless we push them, but not doing anything acts as a “force” in and of itself. It could propel us backwards, rather than forward, and by the time we realize this, we are already too far gone in the wrong direction. 

Take, for example, WWII. Thousands more Jews died before we retracted our statement of neutrality. We could also have waited longer to get involved, allowing Hitler’s power to grow and then millions might have perished. 

I grew up learning that “no bad deed goes unpunished”, but I take it as the pessimist’s view of “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. When people stay quiet against injustice, or choose something easier over something right, then they are adding to the power of the corrupt and the manipulators to move the world. Taking a stand for what you believe in has another effect, maybe helping grow the trees or set the course for the dominos, moving things forward. 

Now, if I can only make the rest of my science lessons make as much sense in my life….

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