Alongside the disenfranchised; as it should be

There is a saying: “Comfort the afflicted, afflict the comfortable.” It is something I hold dear, and I learned it when I was stumbling through the hallways of newspapers.

I know. I know. You have heard me lament the loss of that wonderful career far too many times. But I was thinking about it this morning as I was pondering the legacy of one Margaret Fuller: A 19th Century woman of significant intelligence, who became a newspaperwoman of worth as well as the first foreign newspaper correspondent – male or female.

I learned about Ms. Fuller in Sunday’s L.A. Times’ much-reduced Art&Books section. It’s a shame what has happened to the L.A. Times. It used to be a terrific newspaper. Now, it is a shell of its former self, but still has hard-working reporters, photogs and editors trying to put out a daily, metropolitan newspaper. It is no longer a great newspaper. But still, a good newspaper. I read it everyday, and like this Sunday (Feb. 5), enjoyed it to no end. God, how I love reading good newspaper writing. And you will most assuredly find it in today’s Sunday L.A. Times. That’s Feb. 5, 2012.

Back to the Lady of the Day, Ms. Fuller. As I read the book review about a new biography regarding this incredible woman – (by the way, the review is deftly written by Laura Skandera Trombley) – I couldn’t help reflect on that phrase I opened this tome with. This 19th Century woman was highly critical of those who tried to relegate her to anything near a second-class citizen. She was outspoken and apparently bright as hell.

As Trombley notes in her wonderful review – I am going to quote from her review now, which can be found on Page E7 of today’s (Feb.5) Sunday Times: “At a time when domestic violence was not criminalized, when women could not own poverty, vote, attend college, smoke in public, wear pants or divorce, and when the medical establishment believed that women risked their mental and physical health if they engaged in intellectual pursuits, Fuller’s remarkable genius lay in her ability to lead a life of her own creation while trespassing into male territory.” Amen to that.

It reminded me of a day when the disenfranchised mattered; when the strength of our society was predicated on the how well we took care of the weakest in our society. We don’t do that anymore. We seem to be only concerned with the well-being of ourselves. Our collective psyche has long been surrendered to an individual psyche.

It is not totally without merit. Life has gotten tougher, I think, for everybody. We are more afraid today to speak up, to stand out, separate ourselves from the maddening mob. It’s a funny time we live in. We have our heads so deeply buried in the daily task of trying to provide for the ones we love, we have forgotten those who have no love. The unlovable, the unwashed, the tired, the weary, as our country used to offer, has long since been lost to the driving force of grind. As they say, the trouble with daily living is that it’s too gol’darn daily. I usually use more direct language, but, I too, suffer from the predicament of trying to maintain a daily flow of capital so my family does not get thrown on the trash-heap of economic despair.

And finally, Trombley, the reviewer, asks of subject Fuller: “What must it have been like to always be the smartest person in the room without any of the privileges accorded to men?”

The answer is simple: A human nightmare. But she kept at it. Why? Because we really have no choice. Our consciousness demands it. Ms. Fuller demands it. Always push for the next answer, The next civil right, The next human right. And yes, always try and comfort the afflicted, while afflicted the comfortable.

It is as it should be.



About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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