August 25, 2008

Show Me A Man with a Cause, and I’ll Show you a Hypocrite.

Show me a man with a cause, and I’ll show you a hypocrite. The headlines are ripe with examples: The politician who built a career fighting prostitution spends thousands of dollars on a buxom brunette hooker.The priest in a church that disallows gays sodomizes young boys. It’s more than the Shakespearean coverup of, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”—but what else is it?   

To find the answer, don’t look in the bank accounts of our elected officials. It’s in our midst each and every day—if we take a look in the mirror, it will be there as well. I’m all for pink ribbons and a cure for AIDS, but I’m ready to report my neighbor (who power washes his car and revs his motorcycle like he’s from the NASCAR belt) to the Home Owners Association as an anonymous tip, rather than having a simple neighborly chat. I’ll sign petition after petition for clean air and water, even sending a letter of complaint to a Senator or two, but in the end that’s all I’ll do. Dostoevsky said it this way in The Brothers Karamazov, “The more I detest men individually the more ardent becomes my love for humanity.”

What’s the reason for such contradictions? As individuals and a nation, we’ve come to a point where we don’t believe we can cause meaningful change. The kindness shown to a neighbor will not affect the overall prosperity of a long suffering world, so why bother—I’ll cut you off, and the last thing you’ll see is my ‘Free Tibet’ bumper sticker, receding into the distance.

If we don’t believe that acting as concerned, caring humans with the belief system that patience, perseverance and kindness can enact lasting change, then wide sweeping, fast acting, progressive transmogrification must be the answer.  So, as a nation we latch on to  Presidential candidate Barack Obama who promises change. Driving down Broadway in Boulder one afternoon I see a group of four ladies picketing to end the genocide in Darfur and my first reaction is: “Of course I’m with you on that, but you can stand here all night and the machetes will still fly and women stepping outside the refugee camp for fire wood will still be raped. It’s the height of guilt, vanity and hypocrisy to stand on the corner with smiles on your faces, signs in the air, when tonight you’ll sleep in plush beds.” But of course I’m no better—honking my horn as I pass in a show of solidarity.

We’re paralyzed, either from existential impotence or from our own selfish comforts. In the end, 9/11, the genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, and the war in Iraq have yet to become a great enough impetus to force soulful, willful action on the part of the majority of Americans—simply put, we don’t care enough. Our causes are mere representations of the ideals we aspire to, but we don’t know how to bring these goals to fruition and we don’t believe we can. So, while I cringe over the newspaper during my morning (fair trade) coffee, shake my head and mutter about the incompetence of our leaders, my day will proceed just as it always has.

What a hypocrite.

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