Thoughts watching Bonhoeffer (2003)

December 13, 2023 by Joshua
in Leadership, Models

I wrote the notes below while watching the documentary Bonhoeffer (2003) directed by Martin Doblmaier. I want to learn from history to apply what people did to now. I don’t want to sleepwalk into disaster that everyone can see happening.

The tens of millions of people dying today annually from pollution and being displaced from their homes to get the fuel and minerals under their land are being killed not by my actions and yours, but by those of generations of people before us accumulating all that time.

Two big difference between them and us: we are polluting more and we are aware of the effects. Our actions will kill and cause more people to suffer than past people and we’re doing it with more knowledge and awareness.

If between you and a family’s funeral is an innocent child you have to run over, do you press on the gas pedal and say, “I had no choice, I had to go to my grandmother’s funeral”?

Let’s go back a step. If you created a lifestyle including choosing to live a place where visiting family required running over or poisoning innocent people, can you say you had no choice but to run them over when you put yourself where they were between you and your family?

If you say the system required you to move far away, how helpless are you to change the system? What do people like Harriet Tubman, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Frederick Douglass, and the family that housed Anne Frank mean to you? To what extent have you learned from and emulated them versus the people who bought sugar and cotton from the plantations in 1800 or paid taxes without resistance in 1930s Germany?

Could you do more?

During WWII, fuel was rationed at home to ensure more could reach the front lines to fight the Nazis. If people flying-distance from their families couldn’t go to funerals during WWII, do you think they complained? If they could pull strings to get fuel that would have gone to the front lines to defend the free world, would you support saying “but what else could they do? They needed to see their family”? If everyone did it and we lost the war, would you continue to say it?

More personally, do you think people regret having helped defend freedom, equality, and democracy even if it meant what in other times might look like deprivation? Do you think we can learn from our experience to avoid these situations happening by not contributing to them? Can you imagine that they figured out ways to express and receive love more despite not being able to see each other, not less, for struggling together given the situation? Do you think they feel glory, for putting others’ interests before their own, how ever much they wish they could have done differently, but they couldn’t change the past?

If parts of your way of life kill innocent people and undermines freedom, equality, and democracy, is it extreme to avoid those parts of your way of life? Is it deprivation to forego what hurts people to enjoy more what supports them? If my goal is to minimize suffering to where I’m killing zero people for my way of life, is zero extreme?

Bonhoeffer 2003

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