The Cold Within and Niemoeller’s “first they came for the …” and Hillel’s three questions

When we think about alchemy for social justice it can be a slippery slop to thinking, “but why should I have to do all the changing?!?” what about them!

Well, in my teaching days, I would remind my students about the flaw in blaming the victim — seeing a social problem, studying those most impacted by the problem, seeing how those with the problem differ from those not effected by the issue (studying the effects not the causes), and then launching into change efforts focused on getting those with the problem to change (addressing the effects and not the causes). 

But, this is a place for stories not lectures, so I won’t go into all of that here. Rather, here is a bit of a poem to warm our hearts and to soften and open them to the alchemy of personal and social change! 

The Cold Within

Author Unknown

Six men were trapped by circumstances in bleak and bitter cold
Each one possessed a stick of wood, or so the story’s told.
The dying fire in need of logs, the first man held his back
Because of faces round the fire, he noticed one was black.
The second man saw not one of his own local church
And couldn’t bring himself to give the first his stick of birch.
The poor man sat in tattered clothes and gave his coat a hitch.
Why should he give up his log to warm the idle rich?
The man sat and thought of all the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned from the lazy, shiftless poor.
The black man’s face spoke revenge and the fire passed from his sight
Because he saw in his stick of wood a chance to spite the white.
The last man of this forlorn group did naught except for gain,
Only to those who gave to him was how he played the game.
Their logs held tight in death’s still hands was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from cold without; they did from The Cold Within

This poem very much reminds me of the quote attributed to Martin Niemoeller, a Protestant pastor born January 14, 1892, in Lippstadt, Westphalia. “First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.” 

And that quote then reminds me of Hillel’s three questions: “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? And if I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” so many questions, so much to do, and only now to begin…

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