“The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
In an earlier post, “Indifference Is the Enemy”, I reflected upon the issues of love, hate, and indifference. The quote above, by Martin Luther King Jr., is focused on the same idea. These words are relevant at any time, in any age, but they have taken on a new urgency today.
The events last week in Charlottesville, Virginia, were shocking to many people, but not just to the targets of the alt-right groups who parade openly, without masks or hoods, in defiance of standards of behavior expected by mainstream society. Their violence and messages of hate were met by outrage and denunciations by many people in America and around the world, except for one.
King didn’t mince words in this quote and we will do well to heed them. He used the term ultimate tragedy to characterize the silence of good people in the face of evil. President Trump’s abject failure to denounce the violent tactics of the white supremacists and neo-Nazis protesting against the removal of a statue of General Robert E. Lee from Emancipation Park in Charlottesville was unconscionable. In the face of the critical fallout from his statements, Trump refused to apologize and has remained defiant.
Trump’s election in November 2016, was met with surprise and dismay by many Americans and by people around the world. Opinion polls are suggesting that his support base is eroding badly – and has been since his Inauguration in January. Republicans in both houses of Congress are reassessing their support for a president who has been a national embarrassment.
Pointing an accusatory finger at President Trump is too easy, and can be judged a cop-out. King’s words were not just aimed at leaders – but at all good men and women. Is it enough to disavow the violence and hatred of the alt-right groups? I don’t think so.
Most of us reading these words are voters in a democratic country and that means we are responsible for the government we have selected to maintain law and order and to protect us from external and internal threats. As citizens, we do not have the option of sitting on the sidelines, cheering our favorites and jeering the rest. We must be active and participate in political affairs – locally and nationally. Standing by in silence will have tragic consequences. We must vote, support our local candidates, urge others to do the same, and march peacefully to support the causes that serve the common good.
Some of us are writers and we have a digital soapbox or podium from which we speak. King urges us to speak with love in a non-violent way. Hate is not an inherent feature of human nature – it is learned. Every single one of us is a teacher. We instruct others by our words and by how we live. Being mindful of this truth, we need to use our talents to live lives in love with our brothers and sisters and turn our backs on violence.
We are all responsible for what happens in our society and in our world. The time for pointing fingers and throwing our hands up in despair is over. We are either part of the problem or part of the solution. There is no peanut gallery nor is there room for armchair experts to pontificate upon the woes of the world. We, you and me, are responsible individually and together for whatever befalls our society. The price of silence is too dear and it truly is the ultimate tragedy.