Good Men Doing Nothing

Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights, inner right wing, detail

Like so many other Americans, since yesterday’s outrageous carnage in Arizona, I’ve been struggling with shock, horror, and a sense of despair about our country’s path. Surely, I’ve been thinking, we’re entering some new era of depravity. I was just revisiting that thought when my “This Day in History” widget dealt me this little gem: “1349: Suspected of causing bubonic plague, the entire Jewish population of Basel, Switzerland is incinerated.”

No, Virginia, mankind is not becoming gradually more hospitable to unspeakable evil. Evil has always occupied a seat of honor at humanity’s table.
Our good friends at Westboro Baptist Church are girding their loins, shaking their cans of spray paint, and preparing to make an appearance at the funerals for the victims of yesterday’s shootings–one of whom was a nine-year-old girl.
Of course the question is not whether hatred, intolerance, bigotry, bloodlust, powerlust, greed, warmongering, and other aspects of evil are growing more powerful, more common. The question is: what are we going to do about it?
No; what am I going to do about it. Sporadically I have berated myself for not making more of a public stand for values I cherish, and against the wrongs that relentlessly batter millions less fortunate than I.
German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter from a Nazi prison camp in which he was held for his part in a plot to assassinate Hitler, wrote the following:Here and there people flee from public altercation into the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But anyone who does this must shut his mouth and his eyes to the injustice around him. Only at the cost of self-deception can he keep himself pure from the contamination arising from responsible action. In spite of all that he does, what he leaves undone will rob him of his peace of mind. ”
Of course, it was Blaise Pascal who wrote: All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.

Good people are not doing enough. I am not doing enough. But what do we do? What can I do?
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One thought on “Good Men Doing Nothing

  1. An interesting perspective, Nancy. This tragedy is just heartbreaking in so many ways.

    I have a really hard time with thinking of “evil” as some entity or external force, though. It could be my detachment from religion talking (smile), but I see evil as something an individual chooses to do. Framing it as a force of nature (not to be confused with mental illness) takes away responsibility: “the Devil made me do it!” No sir, you CHOSE to do this.

    Good people simply cannot tackle the big problems alone. Thinking one can is just asking for frustration and disappointment. It will deplete your energy faster than most anything.

    An individual must do as many small acts of goodness– and prevent/correct as many small acts of evil/injustice– as he or she can. Or join forces with other good people and multiply their efforts to do good and battle evil. “Think globally and act locally.”

    Thank you for this post, Nancy. 🙂

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