“He said what?”
Sometimes important insights come from major events. But sometimes they come from what appear at the time to be trivial events. Take the three lunches and a breakfast that occurred in the doctors’ dining room of the university medical center where I worked.
● First, the breakfast, which I was told about but did not witness. I was friendly with an older physician who spoke with a New York accent. He related that he had come in for a late breakfast, when the dining room was almost empty. He was joined by an anesthesiologist who had emigrated from the Soviet Union.
The man had risen in his field until he was trusted to give anesthesia to high Communist Party officials. But even then, he had great difficulty in obtaining an exit visa. Once in the United States, he again rose in his field and was now a professor.
He and my friend were at an isolated table; no one was nearby. The anesthesiologist spoke English fluently, but he chose to converse with my colleague in Yiddish, which he had spoken at home when he was a child. Yiddish was spoken my most European Jews, until Hitler liquidated most European Jews. It is based on Middle High German, with additions from Hebrew and the local European languages.
The two were conversing when the anesthesiologist suddenly stopped in mid-sentence, swiveled his head left and right, and whispered in a worried tone, “It’s all right?” Confused, my colleague asked, “What’s all right?” The man replied, still in a whisper, “To speak Yiddish.”
My colleague reassured him that in America, it was “all right” to speak in whatever language he chose, and to say anything he chose, so long as he did not advocate violence. The anesthesiologist explained that in the Soviet Union, you had to watch what you said, and how you said it, and who might overhear it. Otherwise, you would be in deep trouble. He added that it would take him more time to accustom himself to his new freedoms.
I filed this story away in my memory, for use in case I ever needed to remind myself how lucky I was to live in a free country. I had no idea that I might need it for other purposes.
● The first lunch occurred soon after. A group of us were discussing current events. The subject of gun control came up. A colleague whom I knew to be a leftist looked directly at me and declared in a loud voice, “The only reason people own guns is that they want to kill blacks.” I thought the remark might be sarcastic – it wasn’t.
I replied, “Have you ever heard of Roy Innis, chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality? He also sits on the Board of Directors of the National Rifle Association. Does he want to kill blacks?” A black colleague, despite being anti-gun, failed to suppress a chuckle.
I was going to add that Innis understood that many African Americans in the South used guns to defend themselves and their families from Klansmen, while racist sheriffs stood by idly. I was going to explain that some of the earliest gun-control laws were intended to prevent freed slaves from arming themselves, and that the gun-control movement has malodorous racist and classist aspects.
But before I could go on, the man got up and left without saying a word. As is typical for leftists, he felt no need to support his views with logical arguments. He merely insulted his opponent and departed. Self-righteous arrogance is typical of leftists.
Apparently the man had never heard of projection. Perhaps he thought gun owners want to kill blacks because he wants to kill blacks. Perhaps he’s afraid of that I might do if I owned a gun because he’s afraid of what he might do if he owned a gun. Lack of self-awareness is also typical of leftists.
At the time, I saw no connection between the breakfast and this lunch. But there was.
● The second lunch occurred sometime later. My colleagues and I were discussing politics. I expressed a mildly conservative opinion. An older man, with whom I had had several friendly conversations, suddenly erupted, “You’re a Nazi, and people like you put Hitler into power.”
I was so taken aback that I could hardly protest that I was a Jew, and my father’s eldest brother had been murdered in the Holocaust. Thus this insult was not only uncalled-for but also painful. Needless to say, I never spoke to him again. That I did not punch him in the nose I attribute to my suspicion that he was in the early stages of dementia. At least I hope he was. If he wasn’t, he was just a particularly intolerant leftist. So much for colleagues.
● The third lunch I was not present at – fortunately for all concerned. A long-time friend of my wife took her to a birthday lunch. In addition, I recently had a health scare, so my wife really needed a friend. The woman and her husband had had dinner with us many times, and I regarded them both as friends.
After initial pleasantries, the woman told my wife that they could continue to have lunches together, but she and her husband could no longer meet us for dinner – because my conservative views made me a “Nazi.”
Employing unusual restraint, my wife said nothing, as well as refraining from throwing some food or beverage at the woman. My wife got up and left, leaving her former friend to pay the bill. None of the four of us have ever again spoken a word to one another. So much for “friends.”
But after the three lunches, I could not help recalling the breakfast. Perhaps I had formed an opinion too soon. Perhaps the former Soviet citizen would not have to work harder to accustom himself to live in freedom. Perhaps his former habits of watching what he said, watching how he said it, and watching who might be overhearing him would stand him in good stead in today’s America.
As students and professors in American universities are discovering every day, “political correctness” is a euphemism for, “Don’t say anything that might even remotely irritate a leftist – or else we’ll ruin your whole life.” Leftists claim that socialism is their goal. But socialism is merely the excuse; the goal is totalitarianism.
No, doctor, I’m sorry, but it’s not all right. Best be careful and speak quietly. Don’t let anyone suspect that you are a supporter of Israel, or that you hold any conservative opinions. Today’s leftists are as anti-Semitic and as intolerant of dissent as were the harshest Soviet communists. Today’s America is beginning to bear an uncomfortable resemblance to the Soviet Union, from which you emigrated with great difficulty. Perhaps you should have saved yourself the trouble and just stayed there. At least you wouldn’t be cuckolded by the illusion of freedom.
“Shut up!” he explained.
– Ring Lardner
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