I publish this one for my son Yakov (see below). Last week, his school took his class to Tel Chai for Shabbat. He rolled in after ten o'clock in at night. He was tired, so he asked us if he could stay home the next day. We said sure. He's a great young man, responsible about school, caring and all that. And if he says he'd like a day off, we generally have no problem with it. So he slept in and took it easy. The next day he went back to school. Apparently, a third of his class saw fit to take Sunday off. His teacher got pissed. He gave them all detention. When Yakov called me at three on Monday to let me know he'd be home late, I was livid. I told him to get on the damned bus and disregard the detention and told him, “we've got his back.”
His response was that they would then make him stay the next day. I told him we would not stand it if he chose not to. He stayed anyway. I guess sometimes it seems easier to go with the flow. There are any number of my friends who will tell you I don't necessarily choose the easy way, and I suppose I was asking Yakov to choose the path of greater resistance, but I think there is an important lesson to be learned in standing up against even these small injustices, and too much of this kind of shtick goes on in his school.
I share the following as an object lesson. My friend Gunther lives in southern Germany, and has made a bit of noise fighting against his and the Swiss governments' plans and agreements to let the Zurich airport use southern German airspace for planes in holding patterns, this in large part to meet more stringent noise pollution rules in Switzerland. But whether it is an airport doing regularly what is only supposed to be done in limited circumstances, or a school imposing unjust and arbitrary punishments for students taking care of themselves, the principal is the same, Sometimes You Just Ought to Make Some Noise. As uncomfortable as it may look from the outset, your quality of life, and perhaps the quality of all human life, is at stake.
In Support of My Friend and Fellow Rabble-Rouser, Gunther Volk
April 16, 2012
I write because my friend and fellow noise-maker, Gunther Volk, and I recently had a discussion. Mr. Volk lamented that Germans are too quick to submit to authority and to believe that that authority has the best interests of the populace at heart. Indeed, my friend Mr. Volk has his own issues with those who hold positions of public trust because he does not keep his mouth shut when he has something to contribute. Not only does he think, but he exercises the freedom to express those thoughts.
I think this is good, but it apparently rubs against a certain German sense of order. The more I have thought about this, the more I have concluded that Germany, Europe, and the world have failed to learn the lessons of the last great war, and indeed all of human history. These lessons are quite simple:
- There is evil in the world, perhaps a kernel of it in the hearts of all men.
- Evil can not be appeased.
People seem to have an incredible lack of imagination, or historic memory. It is very difficult for them to see from another’s viewpoint. The dominant view of Western thought is “live and let live.” We believe in individual rights and freedoms, coupled with varying degrees of responsibility and mutual assistance on a broad spectrum from the libertarian out to the limits of the socialist democracy. We argue vociferously about every nuance within this spectrum, but are not generally offended by any balance chosen within it.
Our problem is that we want to believe that the world falls within this spectrum, and that flashes of violence represent transient and limited aberrations, that we have grown and are somehow unlike the generations that came and pursued war before us. We see the tenderness with which an evil person can treat his child, or the tear that person sheds, and want to believe that person is no different than we are. We can not fathom that a person could see our tears and our own dead and hand out candies to celebrate.
We do not wish to admit that people hate, that they would sacrifice their cousins, their brothers and sisters, and even their children to serve their hate, to prove they are right, and to force the world into their belief system. We especially do not like to admit to that kernel of evil that is resident within ourselves. We would rather attribute the atrocities of our forebears - the colonization, exploitation, slavery, acts of genocide, or standing idle witness thereto - to their particular circumstances or the Weltanschauung dominant in their time, than to admit that it was their nature, our nature, and the nature of humankind that made it possible. We justify our our own hate and prejudice by finding fault in the other. It is difficult to imagine that we could have perpetrated and tolerated the evil we have if there weren’t some underlying reason for it. So we stand by and let it grow again, and again, and again.
So what does this have to do with my friend Mr. Volk. Fortunately, his mother impressed upon him quite early on that one does not stand idly by and watch when injustice occurs. Recently, he has taken on what some may see as a small injustice. Zurich airport wants planes to fly their holding patterns over his part of Germany, meeting noise and pollution requirements in their own country by exporting their pollution to Germany. He related a comment that was made to him. A woman sympathetic to his cause said “I could never do what you are doing.” She could not take a stand against the figurative dumping of another country's garbage in her own back yard, which I can not imagine to have been a particularly divisive issue on her home turf. I had to wonder who then would have taken it on if Mr. Volk had not?
We have a tolerance for a certain amount of injustice. But what level of injustice would have been enough to exercise this lady? Or would increased injustice just bring increased oppression that only the most courageous and heroic of us would fight against? Life gains purpose and meaning when we stand up to injustice, big or small. Mr. Volk has learned this and has a better life for it. Indeed, everyone in the fly-over zone has had a better life because of his big mouth. Moreover, knowing he has nothing to fear from opening his mouth gives him the strength to stand up when the issues are bigger.
My invitation to the German people - and the rest of the world for that matter - is to take in this an object lesson. Stand up to authority. It is not always on your side. For the sake of our collective future, open your mouths about the little things. If you do, you will be ready when the bigger ones come along. Confront the injustice that is in front of you today and you will not again fall prey to the hate and prejudice that consumes whole societies. If you fail to do so, the way is open for evil to flourish again.
Evil can not be appeased.