By Andrew Malekoff
I have been collecting quotations, pearls of wisdom and humor, for as far back as I can recall. There are no formal criteria for one to make it into my collection. If I hear or read it and it resonates, it’s in.
When I write, I use other people’s words selectively – particularly when they speak to universal truths, always with attribution and sparingly so as not to obscure my own voice. For the present column, I decided to make an exception and indulge myself by choosing a number of my favorites and weaving them into a comprehensible whole.
I remember the day when one of the heroes of my youth stepped outside of his box of fame and offered a life lesson in humility and service.
Muhammad Ali said, “helping people is the rent I pay for my room on this planet.” He was not responsible for inspiring my lifetime commitment to working with and on behalf of children, however with that one line he reinforced my decision to do so.
A far greater influence than was Ali was my father, whose almost imperceptible acts of kindness to a few children I had known, who had lost their fathers during my childhood years, left an indelible impression on me. The tenderness and attention he showed them never left me with a feeling of jealousy, only a sense of awe.
Not to be outdone by the Louisville Lip’s wise words, Irish poet Oscar Wilde suggested that one way to make the rent payments that Ali referred to, begins with recognizing that “the smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.”
Although we can all agree that acts of kindness go a long way, of late we have witnessed the antithesis of such – an infectious swirl of deceit and cruelty.
Winston Churchill colorfully described how efficient the machinery of deceit can be: “a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
The logical extension of a big lie, Voltaire explained, is that “those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”
Voltaire’s insight was graphically illustrated on January 6 when, among the most resonant images displayed on the grounds of the Capitol were objects of hate, including a Camp Auschwitz T-shirt and a Confederate flag.
The deafening silence among millions in the face of mob violence on that fateful day, reminds me of the silence exhibited just a few short generations ago when bystanders sat passively on their front porches as millions deemed undesirable were slaughtered and fed into ovens on European soil, their ashes billowing all about.
Author Isabel Wilkerson hauntingly set the scene, when she wrote that townspeople within arm’s reach of the camps, “swept the ash from their steps and carried on with their days.”
Small acts of kindness can go a long way in fortifying one for a lifetime. Conversely, silence in the face of injustice brings only shame and dishonor. I believe that there is a natural convergence between kindness and courage.
Standing tall and being counted is kindness with courage. I distinctly recall my mom standing up to anti-Semites and elitists during my childhood.
Although there weren’t a plethora of incidents that I witnessed, I can clearly visualize each one as if yesterday – the wealthy clothing store owner who referred to us as “commoners” and the neighbors who spewed anti-Semitic venom and threats.
Although my mom was the wrong gender for the Texas Ranger motto, as written, she more than fit the bill: “No man in the wrong can stand up against a fellow that’s in the right and keeps on a-comin.’
“In the End,” Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Maya Angelou added to that, that people may forget what you said and may forget what you did, but they “will never forget how you made them feel.”
I have never forgotten how my dad made my bereaved peers feel or how my mom’s voice made the bullies and bigots back off. Or, how both of them make me feel to this day, without even a word of explanation needed.