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Columns by Craig Smith

What Do You Stand For?

By Craig Smith
After a while, however, this sense of intrigue gave way to a growing sense of irritation on her part, as my job kept me from being able to participate in all of the little "fun" things her friends' boyfriends and husbands were always able to do with them. The fact that I would rather do my job (as if I would have had a choice anyway) than spend time barbecuing, playing nerf-ball and talking for hours about sports with a bunch of yuppie stock-brokers drove her nuts, and, naturally, our "relationship" soon began to decline.

I did not realize the speed or depth of that decline, however, until she was observed by a surveillance team "partying" with some of the very subjects (people) being targeted by my unit. In no time at all, she had become a regular little party girl with one of the more interesting groups of folks in the country. Whether her choice of new playmates was made purposefully or by chance (I still don't really know), the outcome was disastrous - a major operation was compromised, and numerous operatives (people) endangered. She, of course, had gotten back at me, which made it all worthwhile in her opinion, and if people got hurt or killed - well, they could just blame me for not wanting to play nerf-ball, I guess.

This neither hurt nor made me angry, as the seriousness of it made it fall within the area of "enemy", and a proper response is determined according to strategy and tactics, not emotion. However, there was a side-issue which I discovered which did hurt, or should I say, disgusted, me.

During the "clean-up" of the situation, I discovered that a guy I had thought was a friend had known all about my "girlfriend"s extra activities for some time, and had not told me. His reasoning, he told me, was that although he and I were friends first, he was now friends with both of us, and he didn't want to "get involved". And after all, it was "personal" business.

I asked him whether, if he saw a burglar breaking into my apartment, he might let me know. He said of course he would - he would never let anyone try to do anything against me without stopping them or letting me know. After all, he was my friend. And what if that burglar were also a "friend" of his, I asked? He would still stop them or let me know, he said, because it was wrong and affected someone he knew. But apparently, he didn't feel that lying was wrong.

Nor betrayal.

Nor endangering the lives of others through vindictive, personal, self-centered behavior. At least he didn't feel that it was wrong enough to "get involved" with, as long as it was happening to someone else. After all, she had never done anything to him.

How often do we come up against something like this - this refusal of people to stand against behaviors that are destructive to others, as long as those behaviors are not directed toward them? Far too often, I'm afraid. And, of course, this is not a recent social development - history is one long story of people being attacked and destroyed while others stood by complacently, refusing to "get involved".

The piece, "I Didn't Speak Up" illustrates this in a dramatic way:

  I Didn't Speak Up

* In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a   

* Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.

* Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.

* Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.

* Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak up for me.

Reading this 50 years after the fact, and with a history which has shown us the unhuman brutality of one of history's many brutally inhuman regimes, it is easy to understand the message of this piece, and difficult to understand how people could stand idly by while their friends and neighbors were systematically enslaved and slaughtered. But millions did stand by, not wanting to "get involved", and over 12,000,000 people died as a result (not the 6,000,000 figure usually reported). And listening to the testimony of those who stood by, familiar excuses are heard: "It wasn't really any of my business." ... "It was just politics - I don't like to get involved in politics." ... "I really didn't know what was going on." ... "I just try to mind my own business."

Most people would say that they would never stand by while a friend were attacked or maligned. After all, they would say, it is a matter of principle. They are right in saying this - it is a matter of principle However, when faced with the situation in reality, their behavior does not always reflect this self-professed strength of character. Instead, principle quickly becomes "opinion", or "politics" - something they don't want to "get involved in".

"I'm not going to get in the middle of it," these self-proclaimed towers of principle will say when someone lies, cheats, refuses to pay their bills or attempts to destroy the reputation of someone else. "I'm not going to get in the middle of it - that's between them. I just hope they can work this out. It's really too bad this had to happen. Blah, blah, blah..." Interesting. Of course, their opinion would change fast if such attacks were turned against them. Then, it would all of a sudden become principle again - not politics or a "difference of opinion".

In the "old days", there was a code of conduct which was generally understood and accepted throughout society. If a person lied or cheated, no one would trust them. If a person did not pay their bills, no one would do business with them. If someone slandered or attempted to ruin the reputation of someone else with lies, that person was not only shunned by society as a whole, but may very possibly find themselves in serious personal peril from the one they attacked. That's because these were basic principles of life and society.

But no more. Nowadays, it seems, a person can act pretty much however they want to, and few others will hold them to account. It's simply easier not to, and most people, regardless of how much they would like to think of themselves as "strong", "good" or "principled" will break down like a cheap shotgun when asked to do something as uncomfortable as standing against wrong behavior. Instead, they will continue to do business with, and thereby support, those who lie, cheat, steal, slander or run con games on others - as long as it's not against them, of course, because then it would be wrong.

The person who lies, cheats, steals, slanders, does not keep their word, does not pay their bills or does not honor contracts and agreements is anathema to men and women of principle. The fact that the United States has had a president for the past eight years who exemplifies these worst of human weaknesses does not excuse it, but is simply a sad indication of the level of acceptance our society has lowered itself to. And the "enabler" - the one who supports the behavior by not denouncing it, is no better than the perpetrator.

Though many feel they can hide in the anonymity of the crowd while not taken a stand, they operate under a self-deluding fallacy, because everyone is known for what they do, and what they don't do. And in the final analysis, a man or woman is known for what they stand for, and what they stand against.

Years ago, I worked in a unit which demanded long, late and irregular hours, and precluded me from telling anyone exactly what I did for a living. The girl I was dating at the time found this very exciting and exotic, and enjoyed the sense of danger and "importance" she felt as a result of her connection with it all, and, for a while, all was well.