Fri 19 Jan 2007
Fire and Hammer asks a provocative question in the post "Taking a Stand": what happens when we are faced by a situation that we know is wrong, but we fail to have the courage to take a stand against it? And with most people, the little situations we face every day can be must more difficult than looking at “macro”-issues.
As Fire and Hammer describes well:
The other day my son and I were riding the subway when four black teens started cursing. They carried on their conversation as if their language was natural. On this same car there was at least one other small child who could hear this foul language. I thought about saying something to them, asking them to watch their language in front of the children, but I did not.
Later I felt bad. I felt like I missed an opportunity to take a stand. I spend time here on this blog speaking of the need for change. Yet, when it was time to really speak out, I kept my mouth shut. At the end of the day I felt a little less like a real man.
The next day my son mentioned these boys and their language. I told him he will hear people cursing, just make sure it is not him. He asked if he should say something if people are cursing: should he tell them to stop. Having missed my opportunity to speak up, I did not know what to say to my son.
It is so easy to speak here on the net, with a degree of anonymity. But there is a real world out there and I hope the next time the need arises I will have the courage to speak out, or to act in a way that will make the world just a little bit better.
We all have opportunities every day where we have to demonstrate what we are made of. Sometimes it is the actions we take that define what we are about: the act of kindness that we extend to a stranger; or perhaps the ethical behavior we exhibit during our business dealings. But sometimes its the actions we don’t take that also can define us: the insulting comment about a coworker that we hear, but do not refute; or the injustice against someone we see, but do nothing about.
That’s one reason why we have to continually pray for forgiveness because “we have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done”.
And when it’s a matter of someone else’s behavior, it can really put us in an uncomfortable dilema. Do you “stick your nose in” to someone else’s business? What might have happend on that subway car if he had confronted those foul-mouthed kids? They might have been ashamed and quieted down in front of the small children. They might have sensed the opportunity to annoy someone and cranked up the profanity even higher in an effort to be even more shocking. They might have decided that this was their car, cursed out the father in front of his child, and tried to pick a fight. So what to do? Not an easy question to answer.
And we are confronted by these types of “little opportunities” constantly in our daily lives.
Reading this story made me think about a time during my senior year in college. It was close to the end of the year and graduation was in sight. Moods were pretty good. Most people already had secured their post-college employment or school plans. One classmate in particular was ready to start a new job, and had already gone out and bought a new car. At least at that time, it was a pretty remarkable thing. Most people, if they had a car, had something less than new — paying for college took most of our money. He asked me if I wanted to take a ride in his new car. Like anyone, he wanted to show it off. We went around campus and quickly we arrived at the edge of town. Dusk had fallen, and suddenly he took off. The car flew down the two-lane rural road. Now in the Midwest things are pretty flat. And pretty dark at night. We hurdled down the road and I was braced in the passenger seat. I don’t remember what I said. Now I’m not someone who always obeys the speed limit. But I remember what I was thinking that night: we were going *way* too fast, especially if something were to get in our way. And I remember the relief that I felt when a distant streetlight started approaching nearer, signalling the end of this road and the need to slow down.
Of course, I didn’t tell him that he shouldn’t drive like that. It wouldn’t have been cool. And maybe I was the only person he ever took out for a ride that was actually scared about what he was doing. What a loser I would be to try to put a damper on his good time.
It was only a few weeks later, just as final exams were ending and graduation was nearly upon us, that we got the news. He apparently had taken two of our friends out with him. Must have been showing them how fast his car would drive. But this time the car wrecked on that same stretch of rural road. The car left the road, and eventually flew threw a fence. The driver and person in the passenger seat were both injured, but eventually recovered. But our classmate in the back seat was ejected from the car and was died along side that road.
As I tell this story, I don’t mean to make the driver out to be a bad person. It was an accident. But it was something that was avoidable. And I can’t tell you how many times I wondered if things might have been different if I had told him what I had felt the night he took me for a ride. We can’t know for sure. Maybe he would have ignored my warnings and went on to have the exact same consequences. Maybe he would have laughed at me and went on to cause me great social discomfort with my friends. But maybe he would have thought about it and decided not to wind up the engine like that in the future…
So, all I can do is echo what Fire & Hammer put forth. Situations come up every day that do call for some action. Not always big things, but sometimes it can be the little things that later turn out to be very big things. Boy, can it be uncomfortable! It can even be embarassing, inconvienent, and painful.
And that’s why we have to pay attention and look for these times. We need to pray for the strength to take the right action. We have to encourage each other every day.
And maybe the world, and each of our lives, can end up just a little better in the end.