>> Wednesday, August 12, 2009

One of the responses to the last post was that the naivete of my "pure" equated with gullibility.

Well, although I admire the commenter, I don't agree. Naive means innocent or deficient in worldly wisdom. I don't think that equates with stupid. And the people I were describing weren't necessarily pure in the religious sense, though that isn't precluded. They were people who genuinely cared about the happiness and well-being of others, were willing to sacrifice their own happiness, even lives, for the benefit of others.

True, people have sacrificed themselves for war and oppression, no doubt, and no doubt they thought they were doing it for the greater good, were convinced that this was the only choice against an "evil" threat. But that's manipulation via hatred and fear. The individuals I'm talking about can't be manipulated like that.

Pure, in this case, isn't about what God you believe in (if any). It's about what you are willing to do and why. Pure in this case precludes being manipulated by hatred and fear because they don't hate anyone. You can't trick them into smiting an enemy because they won't smite anyone, sometimes even in self-defense. They aren't the ones blindly marching along to war because someone convinced them it was a good idea - they are the conscientious objectors who have been there during every war, from the very beginning, often killed for their intractable stands with regards to their own beliefs. Not killing, dying. Even in modern times, they often face years of hardship in response to their unwillingness to kill others.

A faith is something you die for, a doctrine is something you kill for. There is all the difference in the world.
- Tony Benn
They are the quiet unsung heroes who hid thousands of Jews in Germany and the surrounding countries (and likely shared their fates as a result). They are the quiet unsung heroes who helped ferry escaping slaves from the South. They are the quiet and unnewsworthy neighbors who provide blood in a crisis, come help clean up after a disaster, pick up the pieces after a handful of fanatics kill indiscriminately, even though they know the dangerous rubble they sift will likely only provide bodies. They are the firemen who rush into a burning building and the policemen who take a bullet for an innocent bystander.

They are the volunteers who bring water and what comfort they can to a people orphaned and alone after their families were swept away by a tsunami and dig the bodies of children out from a village lost to a mudslide after Hurricane Mitch. They are doctors and, yes, even missionaries, who brave disease and death by violence to help those who have no one else to aid them.

The loud fanatics who have lost site of humanity in their railing against this label or that label can call themselves any number of things. Pure may even be one of them, but it's a lie. It's not about religion or color or lineage or gender or any other label. It's about not letting oneself become a monster because you care about other people, all other people. And, though they don't get the headlines and don't rant on blogs, they do exist, more than we know, more than the world acknowledges, which is why I'm convinced the world is getting better.

For this cause I too am prepared to die, but for no cause, my friend, will I be prepared to kill.
-Mahatma Gandhi
I am not one of them. Oh, I try to do the right thing and try to be part of the solution, but there are things I'd kill for. But I admire them for their unwillingness to ever compromise who they are.

At least, that's how I see it.


  • The Mother

    Obviously, I have a different definition of "innocent."

    I was working off this: "Pure characters can't be corrupted, though they can, in a superficial way, be fooled. They love romance and happy endings and will often go to great inconvenience to make them happen, even if they get nothing from it."

    That kind of innocence is incompatible with the kind of hero you describe in this post. No one smuggling Jews out of Nazi Germany still believes in love and romance and happy endings. They were all too aware of the horrors of the world and the terrible things that people can do to each other.

    The character you described in the first post (or at least, what I got from it) is naive, still certain that the world can be bent to their will. And those kind of people can, indeed, be led astray by smooth talkers who claim that they have all the answers.

  • Roy

    So who was J.T. Neufeld, a prisoner at Leavenworth in 1918? I'm thinking a German prisoner of war, since Leavenworth was a military prison back then. But what does he have to do with the current discussion.

  • Stephanie B

    The Mother, than I expressed myself poorly though what you cut and pasted doesn't seem incompatible with what I envision. Perhaps we just see the world differently.

    Roy, he was a conscientious objector who spent 15 years hard labor for refusing to kill people during wartime.

  • Shakespeare

    I feel Gandhi's comment to the depths of my soul. The very reason those who helped Jews escape Europe DID so is because they believed in love, romance and happy endings. They just also knew the Jews would not find those things if they remained, so they helped them escape to find such things somewhere else. And by doing so, they showed the very same love they believed so strongly in.

    Naive people CAN change the world. One tiny act changes the world, and when those tiny acts add up, huge events occur. No kind act is ever truly wasted.

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