Consider 2009 with Difference

Since 2009 is almost a week behind us perhaps my thoughts on 2009 will be considered a novelty and generate e-xcitement. There is no doubt that 2009 is a historic year in many respects, both good and bad. How many of us will miss the implications, applications and consequences from this year? No doubt I fall within these ranks on some issues, but not because I failed to reflect out of fear for the past or the future. Sometimes we have so much invested that the polemic that accompanies such fare only results in indigestion. We can only take so much so we take the easy road. “It is better not to think about it at all” is the general idea. Elie Wiesel’s speech given in 1999 to President Clinton, and company, reminds us that indifference is a road we should never travel.

 What is indifference?…A strange and unnatural state in which the lines blur between light and darkness, dusk and dawn, crime and punishment, cruelty and compassion, good and evil…Of course, indifference can be tempting — more than that, seductive. It is so much easier to look away from victims. It is so much easier to avoid such rude interruptions to our work, our dreams, our hopes. It is, after all, awkward, troublesome, to be involved in another person’s pain and despair. Yet, for the person who is indifferent, his or her neighbor are of no consequence. And, therefore, their lives are meaningless. Their hidden or even visible anguish is of no interest. Indifference reduces the other to an abstraction….In a way, to be indifferent to that suffering is what makes the human being inhuman. Indifference, after all, is more dangerous than anger and hatred. Anger can at times be creative. One writes a great poem, a great symphony, one does something special for the sake of humanity because one is angry at the injustice that one witnesses. But indifference is never creative. Even hatred at times may elicit a response. You fight it. You denounce it. You disarm it. Indifference elicits no response. Indifference is not a response. Indifference is not a beginning, it is an end. And, therefore, indifference is always the friend of the enemy, for it benefits the aggressor — never his victim, whose pain is magnified when he or she feels forgotten…Indifference, then, is not only a sin, it is a punishment. And this is one of the most important lessons of this outgoing century’s wide-ranging experiments in good and evil.

 You can read the whole speech here; it is worth reading. With this said, there are two things to note 2009 passes into the night.

  1. 2009 is the Year of Barack Obama. For me this has some good implications and some bad implications. Good implication – we can elect a president regardless of race. Although I am a polar opposite than Obama on most issues, I am excited for this fact. We all should be. It is a triumph of recent American history that paved the way for this day. Many people alive today can testify to the atrocities of racism in the 50’s and 60’s (and earlier) of the last century. There are many people who in America are still suffering the pains of racial hate both in the big city and rural township. Their hope rests in the reality that Obama’s presidency reflects. 2009 as the Year of Obama does not rest solely on his heritage. If Barack Obama was white this still would be his year for good and bad. The reason I say this is because almost every major event or story of the year has him as one of its players. I cannot think of one arena of life, culture or influence where his presence was not felt. Barack Obama’s politics as President of the United States are felt in a way that surpasses his recent predecessors.
  2. 2009 is the Year of the Cult of the Celebrity. It is as if Hollywood has given itself its own star on Hollywood Boulevard. Even Barack Obama’s attraction is in large part the celebrity that he plays. But more poignantly than this – there are two examples that occurred this year that prove to me the dire straits we are in concerning this cult of the famous. The first is the death of Michael Jackson. The overwhelming national grief over this pop performer was staggering. I admit that even I was taken back to many times in my childhood where his music served as a backdrop to some defining moments. This is not as it should be, talented as he was. When we start defining ourselves by the outcropping of celebrity from the entertaining arts we have lost our way.

Don’t get me wrong. I think there are famous people worth emulating. I just don’t think they live in Hollywood. Our celebrities prove more that fame is a virus than a virtue. Yet we laud them and desire these fancies ourselves missing the misery that is racked into the lives of famous people. Fame is a hard calling and few can handle it well. Unfortunately those we applaud the most seem to be the least equipped to handle it.

The second example was from December 31, 2009. I watched a variety of news stations on this last day of the year. Each news show ended with a reflection of the year’s note-worthy people who had passed away in 2009. Each station, as they reflected, would give an additional amount of time on more “note worthy” persons who died. Of every single news show I watched (there were three shows) the only person of consequence who was given an extra amount of time for reflection who was not a performer (actor or singer) was Ted Kennedy. It is hard to imagine that of all the political influencers that passed this year, for example, that the only people worth remember are those who “graced” the stage. From the perspective of a national conscience this is an atrocity. It is proof that we have become indifferent collectively.

And so I say to you, don’t become indifferent. Consider the past, praise its proper achievements, grieve its failures, consider our future and become invested by being involved.

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