The story of what happened on United Airlines has been about the violence and brutality inflicted upon a passenger. That story is not nearly as troubling as the one no one is writing about. What happened on that flight was how the German government, led by Adolph Hitler, was able to kill twelve million people. What happened on that flight was cowardice in the face of abuse of power.
None of us know what we will do in an emergency or life threatening situation until we are there. So it’s easy to say what we would have done had we been there. Hindsight is not only 20/20…it’s also safe. What can be said is that if you know what you believe in, and you know what is worth facing consequences for, then your action in such unanticipated moments will be motivated not by what is expedient or beneficial to you, but rather by your guiding principle.
Everyone on that flight knew that was happening was wrong. I don’t care what United’s Rule 25 says or what its CEO says in justifying the assault and battery that occurred. Nor do I care a whit about United employees who “needed to get where they had to go.” Everyone knows that what happened was wrong. It was the application of brute force with total disregard and disrespect for another human being. It must have been horrifying to watch right before your very eyes. Yet no one present did anything about it.
We say gold is a rare commodity and difficult to mine but courage is much harder to find. It was totally lacking on that flight. Three hundred people watched, horrified, and did nothing about it. What could they have done? Well, if they weren’t trying to make certain that they weren’t next, and they had a principle of which they were certain, they could have stood and said, “We’re all leaving this plane. You just bloodied a passenger because he was resisting disembarking. Now you can have the whole aircraft for non-paying United employees because we’re getting off and never flying United again.”
That’s what courage looks and sounds like. But instead, what happened on the flight was precisely what German Lutheran Pastor Martin Neimoller wrote about:
“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out…
Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out…
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out…
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me….and there was no one left to speak for me.”
He was one Asian man, minding his own business, sitting in a seat he had paid for, harming no one. His history and his background are irrelevant. Unless, of course, you are looking for a reason to justify or excuse, in your own mind, why what was done to him was not so bad.
And those people present on that plane? Well, it was happening but not to them. It wasn’t their seat, it wasn’t their problem. Best to not draw attention to one’s self and perhaps be the next victim.
What breeds victims is an unwillingness to stand in the face of evil. Whether it is a bully in a school yard, an abusive spouse, a rogue cop, ISIS, or a corporate policy that justifies violence…the failure to refuse to tolerate what we know is wrong is the slippery slope to enslavement.
It is Passover. It is a holiday that exists to remind us that we are only enslaved to others when we tolerate indignity and deny the laws of God in so doing. Yes, it takes courage to walk into the unknown and risk the safety of what is. But when what is robs you of your humanity then the unknown should be welcomed and the risk worth taking.
On Palm Sunday 50 Coptic Christians were killed in a suicide bombing in Alexandria, Egypt. First they came for the passenger and we did nothing… Carole