Sunday, June 04, 2006

Time for Bravehearts

People are often known to say and act the opposite of what they think and believe. This is a sign of weakness, as we don’t want to become targets of the anger of someone who is in a position to hurt us, perhaps even destroy our lives. We also seem to need to save our face. In politics this is an everyday fact. Did all the senators and house representatives really believe in the reasons presented for the invasion of Iraq? Surely Colin Powell knew he was fabricating facts when he spoke in the U.N. about the weapons of mass destruction; he is an intelligent person, after all. How can every member of one political party support the same idea, and all in the other oppose it? Why are we not allowed to say what we really think?

It takes a brave person to stick his/her neck out and speak the truth. In the story “Emperor’s New Clothes” it was a child, who hadn’t yet learned to be a coward, who finally spoke up. During the Nazi era most Germans publicly supported the country’s policies, even if in their hearts they might have been appalled by them. During the Cold War, Americans were taught to despise every communist on the globe, most of whom had no choice but to believe in their own political system. Today’s Palestinians automatically hate their Israeli neighbors: the brave ones talking about peace are few and always live in fear for their lives.

Every day we are faced with situations that are less than ideal, often harmful and in a long term destructive. These may be as diverse as the national problem of discrimination, such as in immigration or other ethnic issues, lack of health insurance, or an intolerable atmosphere at the workplace. A person in a position to help remedy the situation may, in a private conversation over coffee or a drink, admit the problem and say that something ought to be done about it urgently, yet contradict himself by giving a very different viewpoint to the media the next day.

People are reluctant to act alone and it takes time to build the momentum needed to act as a unit. Mass demonstrations do happen, and although they seldom bring immediate results, they don’t go unnoticed, and are often effective in the long run. They eventually brought an end to the war in Vietnam, and have resulted in troops being withdrawn from Iraq by many ‘coalition’ countries. In a workplace results can happen faster if the employees have the courage to stick together for a worthy cause. Surely they will be threatened, both individually and collectively, but in the end the employer will realize that the business cannot go on without the willing participation of the workforce. The more specialized the jobs are, the harder it is to replace workers.

We need strong leaders to help us protect our rights and improve our lives, and we need courage to stand up for what we believe is right. Threats are likely to remain empty, if people stay firm and united. It is easy to be a coward and only care about one’s own paycheck, rather than admit that something has to be changed for the benefit of all. But let’s be optimistic: even the Cowardly Lion finally overcame his fears and became brave, saving Dorothy and the magic world of Oz.