Tuesday, May 20, 2014

12 Years a Slave

12 Years a Slave and Other ...
Yesterday Corridor Book Club met to discuss the book 12 Years a Slave by Solomon Northup.   This will not be a review of the book because I haven't read it yet.  That's right, I went to book club to discuss a book I didn't read, but that's ok because very little of a great discourse on literature is actually dependent upon the details of a single novel.  It left me thinking and I wanted to share.  (As always I have changed names since I value my privacy, golden rule, etc.)

At any rate, in our discussion Abby posed a questions to the group asking if anyone would have helped the slave escape the south.  Bonnie immediately stated yes.  No one else at the table gave such a direct answer.  Inside, my immediate answer was yes, which was immediately followed by rationalizations.  I think 2 years ago I definitely would have said yes and just left it at that, but as I was driving home I couldn't help but think the final answer would actually be no.  Gasp, I'm a horrible person - but hear me out.  Helping in the situation is a huge risk.  Being caught helping the slave would result in death, not only death but probably accompanied by slander etc. to protect the murderers.  All for what?  To help 1 person get freedom.  Now as I said, in the past I would have been on board in an instant.  I would gamble my life to help 1 other person, no hesitation.  But now my stakes are higher.  I would not only be gambling my life, but the future happiness of my daughter.  What I do every day ensures her future happiness, security, confidence, etc. to the point that if I were to suddenly disappear from her life it would not ever quite be the same. 

Now I'm not saying that my life is suddenly more valuable because I am a parent, but I am saying that the impact would be greater.  It could be quantified by time, previously my parents/husband would feel a loss, but that would only last about 50 years before we would be reunited.  With a child the loss  would be felt for closer to 80 years.  It could be measured by the feeling of loss which would also be greater, a child without a parent has an undeniable loss of stability that can manifest itself in so many different ways.  Could she ever forgive me for making a choice to leave her?

Historically, so many people have participated in underground activities to aid the unfortunate, and many of these people had families to consider.  Finding women in history - let alone women with families is next to impossible.  Harriett Tubman, while married in slavery left her husband when she decided to go North.  She did not remarry until after the Civil War. Do women with children make these choices?  Or do they settle into the mom role, and let others make the deciding moves?  Does this example of complacency then influence their children?  and would the hardship of losing a mother to a just and noble cause offset the emptiness just a bit?

Instead of looking at what a child loses in this situation perhaps I need to consider the "character building" qualities.  Setting an example is a huge influence on children psyches and seeing mom walk past a person needing help is surely going to qualify as setting a bad example.  Showing a child that self-preservation is more important that community outreach is also starting down a bad path.  

Is this complacency - and rationalization - actually the evil that needs to be overcome?  With the world becoming smaller and smaller, couldn't one argue that I am already choosing to do nothing?  I haven't gone to Nigeria to rescue the 300 kidnapped girls.  I haven't done anything about the huge divide here in America between the rich and the poor, or the level of educations given to wealthy children vs. poor children.  I haven't done anything about violence against women.  I haven't given up fossil fuels, or convinced anyone else to.  I have beliefs, but I don't have actions.  And this has nothing to do with parenthood - I didn't have actions previously.  But where does one begin - with all the bad - where does one begin to stand up for the good?

As  you can see this thought process has come a long way from a simple question.  I don't have answers - only more questions - but igniting this thought process is why I love book club!


  1. Excellent blog - and of course by coming late I missed this thoughtful discourse. Instead I did my usual "old man" rambling, Sorry all.

    1. It's never too late to contribute your 2 cents Bob - would you risk life and limb to rescue a slave from the South?

    2. I'm sorry I had to miss this discussion. It sounds like it was a good one. I'd like to think I would have helped but I also wonder how the social standards of the time would have impacted that decision. Living during a time when this was seen as justifiable treatment, it's hard to know whether outside influences would have altered that decision.

    3. I can see how it would be so easy to live in the South, own slaves, and think "Hey, I'm a good person. I don't beat my slaves too much. I give them food, and shelter. Really, aren't they better off being my slaves then out starving on their own?" It's a dangerous line of thinking to start following.