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April Salchert Headshot

Political and Social Inaction: The Dangers of Doing Nothing

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Over the last few months, some surprising and high-profile events have taken place in the world, economically and politically. And, well, some surprisingly not-so-high-profile incidents have taken place in my life involving an elderly woman on a subway and a trip to Sardinia.

On my way home today in Stockholm, an elderly woman, with her walker, stepped onto the crowded subway train. I gathered she was probably in her late 70's, and I was astounded that not ONE person offered her a seat and, yes, those who were sitting and able-bodied were in clear view of this elderly woman. As she struggled to press her body up against the wall, grip tightly to the handle, and steady her walker from the movement of the train, I stood there, staring, completely baffled that even the people standing around her did not attempt to help her.

I was on the other side of the car, and for the next few long minutes I contemplated if she would be insulted if I made a scene to help her (by asking the guy who was sitting drinking a beer to move his lazy ass). I began to feel even worse for not doing anything at all. Finally, the crowd thinned a bit, and I moved over to her and helped her steady her walker for the remainder of my ride, but I was still too chicken to bother confronting any of the greedy seat people.

I left the subway angry, mostly with myself, but also with the world in general. I let those complacent, greedy people win. It was such a small thing, but it meant everything at the same time.

Now, as I reflect on the economic situation in the U.S., I think back to my commute home with the elderly lady. I had a chance to make a difference. The U.S. government had a huge chance to really make a difference in the national deficit and help out future generations. But in the end, all we did was post-pone more suffering. God forbid we disturb those rich greedy seat people.

This then all reminded me of spring break in Sardinia. On Black Saturday, we went to the Easter Vigil procession in town. It was a beautiful event to witness.

However, as we were leaving the procession, my male friend thought it would be funny to mock the participants by shouting, "God is dead!" He justified this obnoxious behavior by stating that the participants were "stupid" for believing in God and he "felt sorry for them." In mocking the procession, he felt he was informing the participants of their ignorance and thereby educating them.

It has been a long time since I have been to a church, and I generally avoid discussing my spiritual beliefs publicly. Along with that, I feel that everyone has a right to their own spiritual beliefs, and I find different religions not only fascinating but beautiful. In fact, you could say that my "faith" is one that is rooted in tolerance and humility, because I cannot with good conscience say that anyone has all the answers.

And because of this faith of mine, I was more than just a little embarrassed to be associated with him and his intolerance and arrogance.

Yet, I did not stand up to him at all. Sure, I told him he was being obnoxious and rude. Sure, I asked if he could be more open-minded and, at the very least, more polite. However, he felt he had the right to voice his opinion, openly and loudly. While this may be true, I have my doubts that his intention was meant to produce any kind of dialog or constructive argument with the participants. In a very basic way, he was taunting, teasing and mocking.

Again, like the subway, I left Sardinia very angry with myself. In light of the Norway shooting, I am feeling even a bit more than just regret in regard to my poor choice of company on vacation: I regret not taking a stronger stance against cultural and religious intolerance when I had the chance.

It's pretty amazing how little we do to stop the complacency and intolerance of other people and situations, whether they are as big as the Norway shooting or as small as my elderly lady on the subway.

I am not sure of the answers to these larger issues, but I do know that my lack of action has changed nothing and no one.