Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Pardon

I think about the movie Schindler's List

Oskar Schindler: "That's not power [killing someone who commits a crime], ... that's justice. That's different than power. Power is when we have every justification to kill - and we don't."

He's talking to a psychopathic Nazi, Amon Goeth, trying to find a way to interest Goeth in halting his habit of arbitrarily murdering Jewish people.  Schindler suggests that Goeth can be like an Emperor who pardons people and shows mercy instead of killing them, and that this pardon will demonstrate real power. 

What I learned from Oskar Schindler was not to lose sight of the ends when you consider the means.

When I'm upset about injustice I rant, attack, complain, argue, and draw lines in the sand.  By contrast Schindler attempts to cajole Goeth into not shooting people in the head by appealing to his vanity and considering that it would cost Goeth nothing to shoot Schindler in the head this is a far more effective way to proceed than denouncing Goeth as a mentally ill monster, even if that happens to be true.

On a separate occasion, the Jews are packed into cattle cars in the blazing heat and they're begging for water while the area Nazis sip cold drinks and chuckle at the spectacle of people dying in the sun.  Instead of saying "You people are hideous cretins" (which happens to be true) Schindler convinces the Nazi officers that it would be funny and even charming to cool down the train cars with water from a firehose.  See?  He doesn't get mad and stamp his feet or make a speech.  He gets the job done.  If you were dying of thirst what would you want, a speech or some water? 

Today as I was bicycling for work, a car stopped for me.  It's driver was seated so high over my head that I couldn't view anything but a hand gesturing that I should go.  I sketched a little wave by way of response.  I had been pardoned and I proceeded through the intersection.

I would never be such an thoughtless idiot as to compare California bicyclists to the murdered Jews of the Holocaust....but I do take a lesson from a movie about the Holocaust.  Like Schindler we are not on even ground with our aggressors.  We cannot demand that they spare us.  The law is on their side and we are mere fragile frames of steel or aluminum or carbon fiber.  We must coax and cajole them, convince them that their power lies in making room for us, in pausing for us, in not killing us even though they could easily crush us.

When those big trucks and small sports cars pause in their travels and grandly gesture that I may pass they are the Roman Emperors.  And we bicyclists are the pardoned.


  1. That's it, I now want a t-shirt with a redneck leaning out the window of pickup, waving his hand at my bicycle, with the caption: Per sancrosáncta humánæ reparatiónis mystéria, remíttat tibi omnípotens Deus omnes præséntis et futúræ vitæ pœnas, paradísi portas apériat et ad gáudia te sempitérna perdúcat. Amen.

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