07 October 2007

Monday's Musing

"They came first for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me,
and by that time no one was left to speak up."
- from the New England Holocaust Memorial: attributed to Martin Niemöller

This is a poem about Nazi Germany, of course. But how does it apply to our daily lives? How many times do we see inequities that we could affect in some way, and yet turn the other way, not wanting to get involved? How many times do we let someone's ugly behavior slide by unchallenged because we don't want to get involved? Or were afraid to say anything? I know I have done this and wrongly felt myself reasonable and calm in difficult situations where I should have taken a stand for what was right.

In the end, we are all in this together; the poem is absolutely right. No one is safe or immune. If one person can be treated unfairly, we all can be treated the same way. I try to ask myself: "what if this were me?"

So what do you think? To what situations in your life does this poem apply? Globally? Locally?



Blogger Stargazer said...

Hi, I think you're talented in crafts :) Nice. Congrats!

8:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very good questions because today, it seems people just don't care anymore. And it had to be that way during the Holocaust, too, for people to just turn the other way while their neighbors were being dragged away.

At any rate, unfortunately, I see this a lot. I try & teach my kids differently; I try & do differently. Other than being an example, I don't know what else to do.

2:47 AM  
Blogger NH Knitting Mama said...

I think for me, after losing my friend recently, it means that we all need to stand together for our country. Sure, you're never going to like everthing that is going on, but in the world's eyes we are one - it is depressing that there are so many things happening within our country that people are so divided on, because so many things end in violence.

2:54 AM  
Blogger The_Add_Knitter said...

We live in a very conservative, uneducated town and the local paper is constantly running hateful editorials. Sometimes I have dissuaded my (outspoken) husband from writing letters to the editor for fear of garnering negative attention from our neighbors....shame on me!

4:01 AM  
Blogger Bridget said...

This is one of my favorite passages - it literally always makes me stop and think ...

6:44 AM  
Blogger Lorraine said...

Rosemary- It's something we could all do better with- standing up for those who can't- and speaking out against unjust behavior.

My peeve is people who treat children like they're stupid because they're kids- makes me nuts.

7:42 AM  
Blogger Kathy said...

That's too deep for a Monday morning. :) Believe me, I want to speak up when I see even minor transgressions, like someone tossing a McDonald's bag on the ground when there's a trash can not 20 feet away. But those are situations when I know speaking up will have no effect and might get me hurt, so I say nothing. If I know I can get away with speaking my mind without getting myself killed, however, I will speak up.

7:52 AM  
Blogger Tiny Tyrant said...

Ah Rosemary. What a way to start the day.

This would be part of the reason we decided to go with trying to be Foster Parents.

I'm busy lamenting over the fact that Mother Nature has decided I don't get to have children, that I forgot there are other ways to bring children into my life.

8:47 AM  
Blogger Valerie said...

The poem is about not standing beside your fellow man against something that threatens you harm or humiliation. I think to not stand by mankind or those weaker in the face of bullying is cowardice. Here you are, minding your own business when someone else is getting thrashed around the next corner. Your brain screams "self preservation" however, think about that other soul who is dying for help.

To Quote a punk band "United we stand, Divided we fall."

10:35 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really like the poem. I took a class in school called "Man's inhumanity to man" and in it we studied the Holocaust. It shook me deeply and years later it still moves me. I see polarization in today's society and hate speech. It makes me think. There is a lot to be learned from the past.

12:00 PM  
Blogger lv2knit said...

I kept thinking of that poem when I was reading Harry Potter. Call me crazy (paranoid?), but it seemed like an allegory to the Nazis and Hitler and the terror of being picked out for something beyond your control. I don't know if that was Rowling's intent, but it seemed to fit, and it made me appreciate the story even more.

12:38 PM  
Blogger Yarnhog said...

I've carried a card with this poem on it in my wallet for more than 25 years, since I was just a little kid. I was a foreign exchange student in Germany in high school, and then a scholar of Nazi Germany in college. Later, I became a diplomat for the U.S. Government. I strongly suspect all of it came from the impact this poem had on me when I was just a child. Amazing, isn't it, how words can have such a powerful effect on a life? That alone should make us all think twice about the things we say, both good and bad.

1:02 PM  
Blogger Romi said...

Wow. Do I have some seriously cool people reading my blog or what?!

1:45 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Nice reminder that we are all human and we should speak up against injustices before they do affect us personally.

2:06 PM  
Anonymous Secret Pal said...

I have been lucky enough to read that poem in person. Thnk you for the reminder that we all need to stand up to injustice.

3:42 PM  
Blogger Jen D. said...

A man walked down a beach at low tide. As he walked he realized that there were hundreds - no - thousands of starfish trapped and dying on the sand. Shaking his head he continued on - there were far too many for him to help. As he came around a bend in the shore he saw another man calmly picking up the starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean. "What are you doing?" asked the first man "there are so many in need, you cannot possibly make a difference, why do you waste your time"' In response the second man simply stated, as he threw yet another starfish back into the ocean, "I made a difference to that one."

I heard this story so long ago I do not even remember where it came from, but whenever I think of it, it reminds me that no matter how small I think my contribution may be, it makes a difference to someone. So often in this world we feel dwarfed by the sheer number who need. Indeed, if we allowed ourselves to feel responsible for every soul which truly needed help, we would be completely overcome with the enormity of it all. And so, we must remember that we are not responsible for saving the world alone, but that we are a part of the fabric of humanity, holding up our corner of the world, a single stitch in a massive tapestry - never alone, but an integral part of the whole. Yes, we are small, and perhaps it seems that just one stitch is not important - and yet that single stitch holds up each stitch before it, and anchors the ones on each side, provides a starting place for the stitches to come. We may be small, but what we do, and what we say matters. It ALWAYS matters. It makes a difference to someone, and you never know who that might be. A single act of kindness can save the world. I believe this with every fiber of my being.

9:43 PM  
Blogger Joanne said...

Thanks for posting this-it's in some prayer books I've seen and used, and it always deserves to be posted to a wider audience.

The hardest part about standing up for what is right is that the scary situation always seems to take one by surprise. It's hard to be an activist or even to fight off one's own fear in the spur of the moment. It takes such practice and bravery to do the right thing. Perhaps we won't be able to come up with the right retort, or the right action in the heat of the moment....but we can often fix that later, as soon as the fight or flight feeling goes away.

For instance, the person who is littering? You may not be brave enough to confront him/her, but you can pick up and throw away the trash, and even do it in front of that person who littered. It's a humble approach to social change.

In my own town, I've been afraid..and not because of littering, and sometimes I speak out, and sometimes I just can't make myself. Instead, I try to follow through via my blog, or a letter to the editor, or just talking to people in town about it. Word can get out in other ways, too... and that's a step in the right direction.

8:01 AM  
Blogger Romi said...

What a wonderful story, Jen! And Joanne, I know what you are talking about - it's got to be scary. And I agree with you: there are all sorts of ways to take a stand.

9:48 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

I think I remember reading this at the holocaust museum at Dachau. I hope I would be brave enough the stand up to that kind of force. My husband is Armenian so I understand the impact holocaust has on people. Unfortunately not every country recognizes the Armenian genocide. Even though most genocide scholars have supported this fact.

To apply this quote to our lives it can be as simple as misunderstanding the way people in other countries live, mistaking our way of life as better. I have been to Lebanon and see that there are many things better about society there. For example it just isn't as hectic there. People still socialize, and the community is much stronger than here. The village really does raise a family there. The truth is no one has figured out the best way to live. We should all be brave and be tolerant. Unfortunately the media isn't always biased, so we need to make up for it and seek out answers if we doubt what we are being told.
And it wouldn't hurt to alleviate the burden on the "working poor" in our countries. How humane is it to barely pay a single mother enough to feed her family three squares, keep a roof over their head and get good medical care? I could also add something about big corporations making oodles of money and not doing their share to clean up the environment because their cronies in government are willing to look the other way as long as their palms are greased. (Oh my, where is all this coming from? Please excuse my ramblings.)

11:29 AM  
Blogger Jen D. said...

I'm glad you liked it. I wish I could remember where it came from... But it is one of those stories that always has an impact on my thinking. Kind of like the poem you posted. It forces you to think circularly instead of lineraly. Put in laymans terms -" what goes around comes around" and also "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." So many people put these things down to trite sayings that don't mean anything anymore. I disagree. I think that if we all thought about a little each day, it would be a kinder and happier world.

2:46 PM  

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