This isn’t really a fully-formed post.
And it’s certainly not an indictment of anyone other than myself.
It’s just that, as I was looking back through my notes from A Problem from Hell, I was thinking about how, in retrospect, it looks so very clear. And no possible excuse is adequate.
And, I know, the problems that we confront in our daily work aren’t often (thankfully) as stark as the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Cambodians, or Rwandans.
But that doesn’t mean that my excuses–commitments with my kids, or the general demands of work, or just thinking how nice it would be to go to bed early and read a novel (okay, or, if I’m being realistic, a book about the growing economic divide in higher education, but, still…)–are any less pitiful.
In interviews, and in historical documents, the excuses people gave for not doing more generally fell into three categories (p. 429 and elsewhere):
- Futility–nothing that I could do could possibly make any difference
- Perversity–somehow, what I might do could be worse than doing nothing at all
- Jeopardy–there’s too much risk, for me and for those who would be involved
And, really, without exception, those excuses are pretty weak–then, in the context of genocide, certainly–but also now, in my advocacy, and maybe in yours.
Because there’s always something we can do. And it just might help. And, really, when we’re talking about injustices being perpetrated, it’s usually hard to imagine how our involvement, especially if we’re smart about it, could make the situation worse. And, of course, there’s always risk, but is it as risky as the moral hazard of failing to live up to our own ideals?
We can always find excuses. The author summarizes, “Those who did not want to know, or act…were always able to find the lack of proof at the right moment” (p. 219).
I don’t want that to describe me.
As I was thinking about occasions when I should have shown up, or spoken out, or put in some extra effort, I remembered by Grandpa Pete, who used to shake his head when hearing particularly flimsy explanations, and say, “That just doesn’t hold water.” For someone from the farm, that’s a condemnation.
And, if I’m honest, it’s often deserved.
So, here’s to more. And to being on the right side of history, at least, as best I can.