Long ago, in a galaxy far away in Indiana, my mother told me this: if you can’t say something good about a person, say nothing at all. I was young and impressionable and decided then and there not to say anything bad about anyone. I kept that vow for a while. I know I did because once during a high school retreat we did affirmations and someone said of me “Debbie never says anything bad about anyone”!
What’s wrong with this advice?
Encouragement and positive words are great, but the advice is dangerous for several reasons. Breaking the connection between emotion and communication makes one lonely and isolated, because no one knows the real you. Suppressed thoughts will come out, not always in healthy ways. Finally, the world needs people brave enough to speak out against evil and bad behavior.
What does this have to do with The Booktalklady?
Next week I’ll post a video reading from Suite Francaise, a compelling novel the renowned French-Jewish author Irene Nemirovsky began during World War II. She envisioned her masterpiece as a symphony in five sections, like Beethoven’s Fifth, but only completed the first two suites and hid them in a suitcase where they remained, unread, for over sixty years. She describes Parisians fleeing the city when it fell to the Nazis, villagers forced to house and feed their occupiers, and a Jewish family seeking shelter in the country that had been home for twenty years. Next Sunday June 14 marks the 75th anniversary of the fall of Paris. Of course it didn’t fall, it was abandoned by its leaders and handed to the Nazis. I read Suite Francaise while in France in 2011, walking city streets and village paths visualizing the rich characters and vivid scenes Nemirovsky brought to life.
Hitler won the country and almost the world because few had the will to stop him. Exhausted by a previous war that wiped out a way of life and the best of a generation (remember Downton?), Europeans either succumbed to his threats or accepted his rant that Germans were victims of others’ success and deserved living space.
Seventy-five years later, there is still evil in the world, and it’s still easier to ignore than confront. There are sociopaths of various sorts, human traffickers, people we know, despots in distant lands. I am always intrigued by people who go against the current to speak for love and justice even if the culture is too busy entertaining itself to pay attention. That’s why, in the novel I’m writing, I created a gutsy main character who confronts the power of the U.S. government! For my mother did not follow the advice she gave me. She always spoke up and said what she thought, both good and bad. When I read Suite Francaise I’m reminded that 6 million Jews perished because the world let a story of victimhood justify outrageous violence. Can we learn from that?
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