A friend of mine was once attending an evening college campus seminar on some topic like "Living Life to the Fullest." Early on, someone in the audience suddenly remembered that it was the same night as one of the baseball World Series games taking place that year. He went up and told the seminar leader he'd be leaving early and hoped that he would not take it personally. Minutes later, the speaker had woven the moment into his opening message.
"If you need to leave this auditorium for any reason, go ahead, but for goodness sake, do it with enthusiasm. "Stand up from your seat with gusto," he declared. "Walk up the aisle with conviction in each step. Slam the door behind you. Leave here as if it really meant something." In life, he said, even an exit should be something to behold. Spending precious time sitting on the fence isn't beholding, it's withholding.
I've noticed there are some things, some rather innocuous things in life, that people seem to have strong feelings about, one way or another. Americans, for example, either love or hate black licorice. Same thing with cilantro and anchovies. Like anchovies on your pizza? For most Americans, there is no sitting on the fence when it comes to these foods. Similarly, my Korean friends tell me that in Korea there is no sitting on the fence when it comes to eating sesame leaves (깻잎), pig blood sausage (순대), roasted silk worms (번데기), or dog meat (개고기). You've no doubt heard the rap on Koreans for the now archaic custom of eating dog. One either loves dog meat, or finds the whole concept totally repugnant. Just ask Korean pet activists.
Korean silk worms ready for snacking
But for the things that really matter in life, sitting on the fence should be a place that provides little comfort."Sitting on the fence" is an expression used in English to describe one's neutrality, a hesitance to choose between two sides in an argument or a competition, or an inability to decide due to lack of courage. Interestingly, we can get excited about anchovies or eating dogs but often have a harder time taking a stand on meatier issues.
Several examples of not accepting a seat on the fence caught my attention recently. This week the U.S. confronted yet another example of senseless violence--the Naval Yard shootings in Washington D.C. Instead of the usual emotionless press briefing given by hospital executives numbed by the carnage they routinely see, Dr. Janis Orlowski, the Chief Medical Officer at the Med Star Center, took the podium and stepped off the fence stating her views that “there is something evil in our society…there is something wrong here. I’d like you to put my trauma center out of business…This is not America…this is not good.” Many Americans were struck by her courage and candor--her willingness to tell it exactly as she saw it.
We were also reminded of the 50th anniversary of the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, that tragically took the lives of 4 young girls who, at the time of the bombing, were in the bathroom of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, never one fond of fence sitting, lost his patience with his fellow black Americans. “What murdered these four girls?” he asked. Then, answering his own question, he continued, “The apathy, the complacency of many negroes who sit on their stools of ‘do nothing’ and not engaging in creative protest to get rid of this evil system.”
|Dr. Janis Orlowski takes a stand|
|Dr. Martin Luther King stricken by|
the death of 4 girls in Birmingham
Think about it. If we can get riled-up about anchovies, licorice, silk worms, and dog soup (보신탕), surely we can take a stand on more essential matters. Will that be on the level of vanity, a football score, or something more meaningful? Whatever it is that pulls you off the fence, remember to slam the gate on your way out.