In college when I opposed the war in Vietnam, some people said I was only doing it because I was afraid. When I began to work on women’s issues, some people said I was only doing it because I wanted sex with the women. When I began to work on marriage equality for same sex couples, some people said I was only doing it because I was really gay. When I began to publically oppose my denomination’s stand on certain issues, some people said I was only doing it because I wanted the attention.
Of all the human miseries that evoke our pity perhaps none is more tragic that those who cannot imagine anyone would stand up for another unless they had something personally to gain.
Human understanding and compassion often leave a lot to be desired. There is much to criticize in American society (and many others) in that regard. However, there are many examples of human misery in the world, directly caused by human depravity, or sometimes due to the cruel and brutal randomness of nature, that when experienced on a personal level, can cause excruciating, and possibly irreparable psychological damage. Some recent examples:
1. Having your husband, two adorable and precocious sons, and your mother and father suddenly snatched from you and wiped out by a 30 foot wall of water that came without warning and devastated your sunny day at the beach.
2. Having to raise two children who have severe mental illness, (likely paranoid schizophrenia) such that they are often delusional and violent, and probably condemned to living in a state institution for the rest of their lives. Your home in the meantime is more or less a poorly equipped asylum, and you have not much time in your life but to work and take care of your severely impaired children and rush them to the hospital, frequently.
3. Having to watch your young siblings tortured to death over a long period of time, as has been recounted by child survivors of the conflict in Syria.
And of course, one could go on with the list for hours. Even watching the ten o’clock news in a major American city is very depressing. How many stupid and inane murders occur in this country every day?
In any event, your statement above about human misery did not really sit well with me. It just seems to diminish the horrific experiences that we want no one on the face of this planet to experience, which unfortunately, are all too common.
John, Thank you for your thoughtful response. The point I was trying to make is that a heart deadened to compassion is a very sad fate, but you are right that I was exaggerating to make my point. I appreciate your comment.
and so… many of us “professional” activists also end up spending a lot time trying to figure out how to get people to take action or vote “in their self interest.” As someone who has always felt the need to fight injustice for the sake of injustice, this has always felt disengenuous, because I want people to vote and be involved because the common good IS in their self interest… Somehow that argument still seems several steps away.
Thank you Leslie. It is disheartening to have come up with economic justifications for human rights and ecological actions.