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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Cornucopia of life

     When considering the consequences of informed dissent and civil disobedience, we tend to focus on "Big Events" and the negative aspects of such actions. The beheadings. The imprisonments. The public ridicule. The loss of friends, the betrayal of family. The condemnation by a society unworthy of true patriotism and unfettered integrity.
     And indeed, the sacrifice is great.
     But it is only half the story, only one side of the coin.
     When a person takes a difficult stand for what is right, for what is noble, he may lose friends, she may forfeit status in her community, he may feel isolated, she may wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to go along. Some who are driven by ethics and honesty may even lose their lives, money, and assets.
     And in the losing, gain immeasurable wealth and distinction that more than makes up for the inconsequential injury.
     Of course, it all comes down to the definition of wealth and distinction used in the evaluation of our lives. If status, power, and our stock portfolio circumscribe our existence, then perhaps concepts like informed dissent and civil disobedience are outside our vocabulary.
     If we think of wealth and distinction in terms of holding onto what is really real, then it's worth whatever sacrifice is necessary to discover what is really real. Friends lost due to a principled stand? Make is easier to see who is still beside you. A blow to the bank account? Rids the bookshelf of silly knick-knacks and cleans cobwebs off essentials. Corner office forfeited to the person willing to cut corners and operate in shades of gray? Clears the air and delineates the company you keep.
     This is not to say that we should go in search of controversy, that we should become contrarians in some quixotic nightmare of us against the world. Only that when honor demands we take a stand, we look at both sides of the coin and know that what we gain by having a backbone far outstrips the losses we anticipate.
     "Our" White Rose kids knew this principle, and knew it well. Some gave up positions of authority within Hitler Youth, others were disowned by family. For some, it was an academic death sentence, others paid the literal price and died. Alone. Some willingly declined promotions (and more money) in Hitler's army, others sought out banned writers and artists for inspiration. In their aloneness.
     But without exception, all of them knew laughter and satisfaction they could not have found elsewhere. The songs they sang rang sweeter, the book club debates roused weary souls, the buzz from whispered conversations over ersatz coffee in public places exceeded anything produced by caffeine alone.
     I doubt that any of them would have changed places with the best-connected Nazi on campus. They had all they had ever dreamed of, and more.
     That is something for us - for me! - to remember when facing life's daily injustices, when my backbone is feeling tired.
     When I feel alone.
     Times like that, I must focus on my cornucopia of daily blessings.
     On the abundance of laughter, of sweetly ringing songs and rousing literary debate.
     On the fragrant buzz of whispered conversation with those I hold close to my heart.
     On the cornucopia of life itself.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Ruth Hannah Sachs

    I just found your books, and are amazed and grateful for the enormous amount of work you have attributed on this important issue. I will be reading your work with great personal interest.

    All my life I have been trying to figure out some disturbing memories of the past. The first one I can remember occured when I was two years old. I tried to use the net to find some answers when I was studying journalism in 1998, but at the time I was not able to find anything. Five years ago my three year old son asked my such a disturbing question that I had to try again. And suddenly The white rose came up.

    I don't want to get into details here, but please just send me a mail, and I will explain. You might think I am a lunatic, but I assure you, I am not. If you could send me and e-mail or befriend me at twitter (miramar68), I would be delighted and grateful.

    Sincerely Marianne, Oslo