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Ron Kaye: The importance of remaining engaged

November 30, 2013

A young man responded to a recent column by emailing me the story of a moral dilemma he faced when he saw a bee on the ground, unable to fly, its wings flapping desperately, disoriented.

"I stood there watching the bee a long time, just to see if it would fly away… I felt many things, to name a few, sadness anger…Thinking of all the chemicals and pesticides we use on plants, flowers, and how bees and animals, in general, are treated…Anyway I just stood there thinking and feeling bad for the bee so I decided to step on it and end its misery. It sounds mean, but I did it with the best intentions at heart."

It seems a small thing, I suppose, but something about it intrigued me so I engaged in a conversation with him. He told he never finished high school, working odd jobs more than attending class, and said his name was Abel Montes Jr., and that he was 21 and looking for work.

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I thought about his story and our conversation for days trying to understand why crushing a dying bee seemed to hold a greater meaning. It crystallized the other night watching the new movie "Hannah Arendt" about the great writer and political thinker who created a global uproar in 1960 with her account of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann's trial in Israel.

Her judgment on Eichmann's role in the Holocaust was captured in her book's subtitle and its final words — "the banality of evil."

Watching the trial, she concluded that Eichmann was the epitome of the "good German" — an unthinking (and poorly educated) bureaucrat who did his duty and obeyed the law without taking even the slightest responsibility for his actions.

Arendt accepted his claim that he was not anti-Semitic and argued that the greatest evils in history were not perpetuated by the fanatics like Hitler but by ordinary people who accepted the orders from authority without resistance or challenge, without thinking for themselves.

In other words, we all have the moral imperative to make conscious and deliberate choices, to stand up for our beliefs, even when it comes to whether we walk on by or decide to terminate the life of a dying bee.

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