Like so many other New Yorker readers, I’m glad to check out what my favorite writers have produced, and early this morning I was drinking coffee while reading Adam Gopnik‘s piece on the 1971 Attica uprising. A terrible story, to be sure, suffused with bloodshed and out-and-out misery, a graphic illustration of this country’s inability to confront profound racial history, separation, and hatred – a story so presently alive today it’s painful.
More and more, I understand the human saga as overspilling with a pulsing heartbeat of fear, real as veritable night armies of marauders, drunken and desperate for satiation. Yet, in the morass of this story, a few clear voices rise ringing with the truth, courageous precisely at the time when courage matters most.
Gopnik raises that difficult question I return to over and over again: when to act and when to hold back? When is the time to speak forth, and when is restraint the wiser course? When is patience the most courageous and beneficial course, and when does patience bleed over into the waters of cowardice? There may be few times in our lives when great courage is demanded, like Warhol’s 15 minutes of fame. At what cost, perhaps, that courage may come.
There are sins of omission but there are also virtues of patience. Many of the wisest things we do, in life and in politics, are the things we don’t. Affairs not started, advice not given, distant lands left uninvaded—the null class of non-events is often more blessed than the enumerated class of actions, though less dramatic….
At moments of crisis, the integrity of our institutions turns out to depend, to an alarming degree, on the fragile integrity of individuals.
– Adam Gopnik