Martin Niemoller, an activist Lutheran Pastor & Poet in Nazi Germany famously wrote (and I must paraphrase to save space) “First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out because I am not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out because I am not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I am not a Jew..” This powerful and poignant commentary on the overreach of a single party government and a self serving, narrow minded, community response, is a strong indictment of selfish, me-first thinking. It dramatically highlights the subtle connectedness of all people. Some say “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Others say ”It takes a village”. But no matter how it is expressed it is quite basic and as critically important today as it ever has been.
The popular campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again” vs. “Make the World A Better Place than it was before I came along”. The persistent cry for tax credits for “me” over health benefits for those less fortunate. The clamor to privatize schools, roads, and infrastructure such as public water systems and other critical public services rather than promoting a shared sense of the value in helping our neighbors and making our communities healthy and more livable. These are all contemporary examples of what Niemoller was expressing. We are putting blinders on. We are becoming a selfish “me first” country. In so doing, we are letting a handful of elected persons strip us of our humanity. We must remember that metaphorically we are all Muslims, we are all Socialists, we are all Jews, we are all Trade Unionists. We are all the Christians that were persecuted by the Romans.
When we think that policy actions only happen to others and that if we get what we need everything will be OK, or voting with extreme self interest over what is best for the community and for the country –- these practices will catch up to us.
I am concerned, as you can tell. I see a tendency among my fellow Americans to narrow their world view to their pocket book. Greed is never good. Only thinking about how I am affected is short sighted and selfish. We are all in this boat together. We all need to pull on the oars. We all need to reach out to our neighbors and make sure that they are as healthy and strong as they can be. Making our neighbors strong makes our communities and our country stronger. We all benefit. If we can’t do that for others, why should they do that for us when we experience catastrophic episodes in our lives?
Niemoller ends his poem by writing “… then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me”. Is that the kind of country we are becoming?
Published by Door County Advocate on Saturday, July 8, 2017
by Mike Brodd