Paul Andersen: What it means to know — and not act | AspenTimes.com

Paul Andersen: What it means to know — and not act

Paul Andersen
Fair Game

This stanza from the poem "hieroglyphic stairway," by Drew Dellinger, jolts us out of spectator mode and prods the conscience.

"It's 3:23 in the morning

and I'm awake

because my great great grandchildren

won't let me sleep

my great great grandchildren

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ask me in dreams

what did you do while the planet was plundered?

what did you do when the earth was unraveling?"

It is difficult to be an activist, to put your beliefs on the line with full public disclosure. It is hard to speak truth to power. That's why so few of us do it.

"Surely you did something

when the seasons started failing?

as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

did you fill the streets with protest

when democracy was stolen?"

Regrets from inaction fill the vacant spaces in our thoughts with "what ifs?" They gnaw at our inner knowing of the failure to act on what we know.

"What did you do

once you knew?"

We know today that racism and gender inequality are core injustices, not only in America, but throughout the world. We know today that climate change is a global threat that will redefine life for our children and for future generations.

We know that American democracy is a sham when PACs sway the uneducated electorate, when lobbyists leverage policies favorable to moneyed interests, when 55 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in a presidential election, when income disparity creates winners and losers.

Where is the upwelling? Why aren't the streets full of protest? Many older Americans say that's not our worry because our day is past. Leave activism to the next generation or the next or the next. Is one ever too old to care or to act?

Activists speak out: If not now, when? If not here, where? If not me, who? Each of us bears the burden of conscience as engaged citizens, as human beings driven to seek the truth by understanding history and cutting through the spin of current events. Each of us faces a moral obligation to confront the issues, to gain insights through more than the one news source that agrees with our bias. Civic responsibility demands the truth of us.

From where comes the truth? Fox News? ESPN? The New York Times? Truth must be woven on the loom of open minds from the threads of carefully weighed information. That weave becomes a tapestry of the world and a filter for fake news and propaganda. It is the fabric of conscience.

When the prophet Elijah sought the truth, he laid out a metaphorical path directly to the divine. Elijah went to the desert, a traditional holy place where one may strip away the barriers to divine revelation.

The desert is open, desolate, lonely. That's why religious and spiritual epiphanies have been staged there in the presence of nature, both harsh and serene.

Elijah is said to have gone to the desert and sheltered in a cave where he witnessed a storm with wind, earthquake and fire: "but the Lord was not in the wind … but the Lord was not in the earthquake … but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire a still small voice."

The voice heard by the prophet is symbolic of conscience, the still small voice that emblazons divine or innate truth upon the consciousness. One can deny the still small voice, or one can honor and receive it as a message from the soul. This is where knowing and action take root.

"Schindler's List" describes a German industrialist during World War II who helped Jews escape Nazi death camps. Schindler is portrayed as a heroic figure who used his personal wealth to buy the lives of the persecuted, the condemned, the victims of hate and violence.

Having saved dozens of lives, a pang of conscience nonetheless strikes when Schindler realizes, "I could have done more."

"It's 3:23 in the morning

and I'm awake

because my great great grandchildren

won't let me sleep

my great great grandchildren

ask me in dreams

what did you do while the planet was plundered?

what did you do when the earth was unraveling?"

Paul Andersen's column appears on Mondays. He may be reached at andersen@rof.net.

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