A stone has a certain kind of being. What kind? The being of a stone is stillness. A stone just sit there – it’s way of being has no capacity for acting in/on the world. It is indifferent to what is so and it cannot be otherwise for a stone.
The being of human being is very different. The way of being of human beings is involvement in the world. And choice in the matter of what shape this involvement takes. Further, this involvement necessarily involves doing – taking action.
Yes, man can be indifferent to that which is but this indifference can never be the indifference of the stone. The indifference of a human being is an active – chosen – indifference. Man is implicated in his indifference and thus subject to moral judgement, the stone is not.
By nature of the being of human beings you and I are implicated in all that which is and which is not. If the world is not as you and I wish it to be then you and I are confronted with choice – how to be (including the actions we take or do not take) in the face of that which is and is not. You and I can choose to resign ourselves to that which is, point the finger at others and leave it at that, or take responsibility for shaping the world to be more in line with which we wish it to be.
What has brought up this conversation today? My confrontation with wrongdoing.
When faced with wrongdoing what do I do? Do I pretend that it is not happening? Do I join in with those doing wrong? Do I help those who are the subject of the wrongdoing? Do I accept that wrongdoing is occurring and say it is not any of my business? Do I merely go through the pretence of doing something whilst staying in the good books of the wrongdoer? You get the idea.
When it comes to the matter of wrongdoing Martha C. Nussbaum has something to say:
… where the perpetrators are like General Dyer, human, the consequence of recognising wrongdoing … is clear: the witness must oppose such evil at great cost and denounce it to others...
In our contemporary world, in which it is a good assumption that most of the starvation and much of the other misery we witness is the result of culpable negligence by the powerful, metaphysical resignation would, again, be relatively good news, letting the powerful of the hook.
But the truthful new of Greek tragedy, for us, as for the Athenians, is far worse than that: for the bad news is that we are culpable as Zeus in the Trachiniai, and the Greek generals in The Trojan Women, and Odysseus in Philoctetes, and many other gods and mortals at many times and places – unless we throw off our laziness and selfish ambition and obtuseness and ask ourselves how the harms we witness might have been prevented.
As Philoctetes knew, pity means action: intervention on behalf of the suffering, even if it is difficult and repellent. If you leave out the action, you are an ignoble coward, perhaps also a hypocrite and a liar. If you help you have done something fine.
– Martha C. Nussbaum, The Fragility of Goodness
If you and I turn a blind eye to the wrongdoing then let’s be clear we are playing small. Playing BIG necessarily involves doing that which Martha says: taking action, opposing evil, helping those subjected to wrongdoing/evil.
Further, I invite you and me to consider that where we are being obtuse, lazy, and selfishly ambitious it is most likely that we are playing small. Given this recognition you and I have the choice to stop this and play BIG.
I thank you for your listening. Until the next time…