THE ENEMIES OF THE PEOPLE
On a recent walk through the park, I saw a mother pushing a baby in a pram while a boy of about three lumbered behind. At some point the toddler fell and began to scream with vehemence. Rushing to his aid, his mother set him on his feet again, but he pushed her away and walked on. “Don’t bugg –ed me,” he wailed and went on crying.
The sentiment was wrong, the tense was wrong, but the message was clear. He wanted to be left alone.
For some reason, Henrik Ibsen’s play, “Enemy of the People” popped into my head. The story is about an honest man, Dr. Thomas Stockman, who speaks the truth regarding a tainted water supply in a newly built town bath. The community wants him to keep quiet as they fear the knowledge will drive away the tourists; but the man holds his ground and is ostracized by those around him.
In their own way, the child in the park and the fictional doctor are honoring their individuality rather than seeking group support. Separating oneself from the pack can be a foolish or courageous act for one stands alone, capable of being judged and without the anonymity of being one among many.
While humans thrive best as social animals, the greatest cultural changes, for good or ill, have been achieved by those who chose to go against the tide of public opinion. That these individuals have probably suffered for their isolation goes without saying. Of real interest is the reason for their behavior. Was it blind stubbornness? A vision that could not be denied? Or was it a sense of justice that had been internalized? Probably it was some or all of these reasons. I only know that if we wish to live a noble life, there will be times when character will be tested and we may find ourselves alone.