Saturday, July 08, 2006

The teacher travels, asking to be shown the same.

I don't usually put up other people's work here, as the reason I started this experiment in bloggery was to write my own thoughts.

But this today from TeacherKen was just too good: (Note: scroll down, there seems to be a formatting problem at Ken's place)

I am unwilling to remain silent anymore.

Perhaps it is that I am now officially a senior citizen. It may be not having children and having a wife who makes more than me and hence is economically self-sufficient. Perhaps as a result I may feel more at liberty to act on principles and damn the consequences.

Maybe it is that I have reached a point where I want to set into the movie “Network” and be like the character Howard Beale played by Peter Finch, that I want to throw open the window and yell at the top of my lungs “I”m mad as Hell and I’m not going to take this anymore.” Maybe it is that I have finally reached a point at which the idea that things can’t yet be that bad no longer has any salience -- they are that bad, they are worse than “that bad.”

All that sounds fine. But there are no maybes. It is not a question of perhaps. I have a moral imperative, and as a result I am unwilling to remain silent anymore.

There is an expression that those of us in the Society of Friends will on occasion use, that we have the responsibility to speak truth to power. We also do not believe in oaths, and some will not even offer affirmations, because oaths and affirmations imply that absent these were are not bound to speak only truth. I will speak truth as I know it, and let those who have ears hear.

I will not remain silent while the Constitutional underpinnings of our liberal democracy are undermined.

I will not remain silent while the rights of others are denied.

I will not remain silent while some are labeled in fashions to demean their humanity or to justify treatment that is inhuman.

I will not remain silent when I encounter those who would divide people into “us” and “them”, whether that be political opponents domestically or those who are called the enemy.

I will not remain silent in the presence of those who seek partisan or personal advantage in manipulating elections, courts, laws and regulations.

I will not remain silent when racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic, or demeaning language of any kind is use towards any other human being.

I will not remain silent when I encounter those who justify a particular course of action when they do it but condemn when done by someone whom they deem as their opponent.

I will not remain silent at rationalization of selfishness.

I will not remain silent at the destruction of the environment or any part thereof - it is the common heritage of all humanity.

I will not remain silent when destruction of lives and property in other countries is justified on the basis that it is our national self-interest or that it is better to fight them over there than over here.

And I will certainly not remain silent when people argue that it is better to keep quite now in order to win an election and/or achieve power at some future point - how can I explain that to those whose lives, families, homes, freedom are destroyed or lost in the interim?

I cannot assume that my choosing to speak - to no longer remain silent - will be affirmed. I must expect that other will criticize, condemn and reject the words I speak, the actions I take. I know that I will be accused of exercising a judgment which is not mine to apply, or that I do not Thee all the facts.

I will listen, I will attempt to understand what others have to say, what they express as their thoughts and motivations. I accept that we will not always agree. But that does not remove from me the moral responsibility to speak out when I encounter any wrong.

I will not always speak in the same way.

Sometimes public confrontation does not empower the person to easily change their mistaken ways, while a private encounter gives the space necessary.

Sometimes phrasing my concern in terms of a question my elicit a recognition by the person to whom the question is addressed of the need to change, or allow her to give me the information that allows me to recognize that I have misunderstood or misperceived.

Sometimes I will speak without words, by simply shaking my head, or refusing to nod, or not laughing at a “joke”, thereby allowing the other person an opportunity toy self-correct.

If I have doubt, I will inquire. I know I can be wrong.

But if I know, I cannot pretend that I do not know, that I do not understand. And if then I remain silent I become complicit. That I will no longer be.

I will speak out because I still can. I will write because perhaps some will read the words I offer. I will participate politically because that is part of speaking out.

I am 60. I have had a life far richer in material benefits and in the opportunity to learn than the vast majority of people who have ever lived. If I die tomorrow, the measure of my life will not be how much I have consumed or accumulated. In my mind, if I could then look back, the measure will be how willing I was to stand up for others.

This is not altruistic, because what can be denied to others can be denied to me.
And I do not hold myself out as thereby superior. This is quite selfish, because I am affected.

And it is not original in thought.

Let me offer the words of Hillel, from the Pirkei Avoth:
If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?
And if I am only for myself, then what am I?
And if not now, when

I am not willing to remain silent anymore.

Kenneth J. Bernstein

I couldn't have said it any better, so I'll just let Ken say it.

Update: Thanks to Wintermute at DailyDocket for the Howard Beale clip and pic link.