No, There Aren’t Always Two Sides
By Galia Sprung
The conscious choices we make are innocent enough when we are babies, but we quickly learn the benefit of calculated choices: We learn that by aligning ourselves with the popular kids, the popular movements, the popular companies, we, too, can profit. We understand the advantages of making choices based on how we can advance and succeed rather than on what is Good and what is Evil.
In Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Not Taken,” the narrator
is at a crossroads in a wood and must choose between two similar paths. The
narrator would like to be “one traveler” and have it all. But as Frost points
out, we cannot “travel both.” The choice of which one is up to us and the
traveler is aware that his choice will make “all the difference.” He may be
choosing the path where wolves or snakes are abundant, but he is willing to
dare. It is his own personal choice and the outcome impacts him alone.
“Long I stood…” says the narrator when relating the story. However, there are times when the “traveler,” the person, the human being cannot, should not have the luxury of leisurely contemplating where he stands in the forest of options. There are no options when faced with the choice between Good and Evil. There are no “both sides” when Good and Evil are involved. There is Good. And there is Evil. You get one choice. When you choose the side of the Evil, you are Evil. You enjoy the evil choice, its connections, its money, its popularity. And yet, some people think they can “travel both” and enjoy the benefits of the side of Evil and still believe they are Good and are entitled to pretend nothing happened, to smile, laugh and talk with the victims of Evil.
I am a fan of author Fredrik Backman (A Man Called Ove). I find his books humorous and with a clever insight on human nature. His characters are well developed and, yes, a bit odd. Entertaining and thought provoking, but not extreme. Recently, I listened to his book Beartown. The promo sounded innocent enough: a rather small town in a forest in Sweden, a town obsessed with ice hockey. I like sports, although not particularly ice hockey, but I felt sure the characters would captivate me. Instead, they captured me and threw me, shivering into a nightmare of anger and betrayal. Not mine but that of a friend whose family’s trauma I remembered from a long time ago.
Towards the middle of the book, when the violent turning-point scene was revealed in the narrator’s breathless voice, I stopped listening. Then I started again. I stopped again and could not return for several days. The scenario wrapped me in a strange depression. Short lived, but it was there. This story taking place in Sweden is so similar to what must have happened, must be happening in so many other small towns, or close-knit communities or any town, really, around the world, including Israel, especially with so many mini-communities. The common denominators linking them? Sexual Assault Against a Minor vs. Money and Greed.
The facts of the assaults are not important here. What is important is the way friends, neighbors, colleagues, teachers handle the aftermath. In the book, the mantra is “What happens outside of the rink doesn’t affect what happens inside the rink.” Could this be happening in our kibbutzim, moshavim and small towns? The rapist in Beartown is seventeen and the star player of a professional hockey club’s junior team. The sponsors promise the only witness a secure place on the team and a better job for his mother if he keeps silent. No need for threats. Too similar to what I heard in the case I know. And when you are struggling to absorb the horrors of what is happening, when you most need your closest friends, and they betray you by comforting the family of the perpetrator, the molester, the rapist, you know Evil has won. Because you know that these people have made a choice. Even more devastating, is the friend who thinks he can be your friend, too. You might say, “Innocent until proven guilty.” True. But not when you know the rapist or child molester or pedophile and the child. Not when you know his history; not when you have known the child for his or her whole life. Yes, you have known the depraved perpetrator his whole life, too. Exactly. You should know better.
Even after a conviction, when the mutual friends -- no, former mutual friends, choose to remain friends with that depraved perpetrator and his family, years of shared parties, shared secrets and confidences, girlish giggles and dreams are violently dissolved by the acid of treachery. And you know why. As in the fictional Beartown, there is a financial bond between the families who have abandoned you. The father of the rapist in Beartown, despite the knowledge that his son is guilty, swears to destroy the family of the girl. He has the money, power, and influence to hire the best lawyers, and he knows his cronies and townspeople who crave his approval and his power, will help him achieve his goals. Evil over Good.
Formerly good people create a side when there is only one solid choice. They create the side of personal profit. They greedily and guiltlessly let themselves be bought off. Gifts. Promises. Jobs. And they have the chutzpah to think they can remain your friend, too. Evil prevails.
An article I read a few days ago on Mako told of a sexual predator in a small community of 10,000, whose residents, appalled at the thought this man, released from house arrest, would continue to live among them and their children, took action. Through signs and protests, they made it clear he was not welcome there. He left. When he returned, the protests continued and once again, he left. Good for them! Okay, there is probably no situation of “money and greed” in play in this story, but still, the residents took a strong stand against someone who had been a close friend of everyone in the town.
We need more friends, neighbors, colleagues and teachers like the residents in that town somewhere in Israel.