I have been reading with no small sense of astonishment about protests, mostly in Eastern Europe. The unemployed are taking to the streets to demand jobs. I find this a puzzle. In this country entrepreneurs, not government, are the engine of growth. What good do protests do when it comes to jobs creation? It appears this country may be joining the ranks of the idle angry. Not long ago, Dateline briefly featured protesters on Wall Street angry that financiers made a great deal of money. It put me in mind of Network and the news anchor Howard Beale who kept shouting: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” Empty anger devoid of real meaning designed to arouse empty anger in others; hardly the agent of positive change.
Many, many years ago I attended a lecture by the playwright Eugene Ionesco. A t the end, he took questions from an overflowing hall of undergraduates about his life and his writing. The last question came from a freshman who stood up and asked about his play the Rhinoceros. “Who is Bernard?” he queried.
Ionesco began his response by describing how a long time ago a terrible force emerged in Europe, one he couldn’t understand. One by one, he explained slowly in French, he watched his friends turn into people he didn’t recognize. Ionesco’s description of how Nazism swept away his friends was chilling. The room fell silent as the tension of his story built.
He spoke without pause until the end when he drew a breathe and declared: “Bernard, c’est moi.”
Over the years I have thought about that story and the courage it took to resist becoming a rhinoceros. And now I think about the economic chaos and the challenges we face as a nation. What will we become? Will we hang on to our values? Will we become a nanny state, hat in hand to the government waiting for someone else to solve our problems?