Five Cents Worth
In the Peanuts cartoon strip by artist-philosopher Charles Schulz, a regular feature is Lucy’s “Psychiatric Help 5¢” roadside stand. In one episode, Charlie comes to Lucy for counsel after buying Linus a new security blanket . . . which causes the latter much grief. The dialogue:
Charlie: “So I bought Linus a new blanket. I thought I was doing the right thing.”
Lucy: “Hmm. I’m not quite sure how I can put this, Charlie Brown, but let me say this. In all of mankind’s history, there has never been more damage done than by people who thought they were doing the right thing.”
All one needs is a cursory read of Will and Ariel Durant’s 11-volume The Story of Civilization to feel the impact of Lucy’s statement. This is not to discount the many wonderful things, small and big, that women and men have done over the ages. But all that goodness is blighted all too often by horrible things done by people who were convinced they were in the right.
- Nero doused Christians in tar and used them as human torches for his dinner parties.
- Stalin killed and starved to death millions of Russians.
- In addition to 6 million Jews being killed, close to 9 million Germans, military and civilian, died during Hitler’s reign.
- Mao Zedong’s Great Leap Forward policy led to the deaths of up to 45 million people – making it the biggest episode of mass murder ever recorded.
- Isaac Franklin and John Armfield made more money from the slave trade than almost anyone else in America. They bought and sold an estimated 10,000 enslaved people over the course of their careers.
- Jim Jones led over 900 people to their deaths in Guyana as they followed his order to drink cyanide.
- Robert Byrd served 52 years in the U.S. Senate. He was also the Exalted Cyclops of the KKK chapter he founded in West Virginia. In a 1946 letter to his mentor, Senator Theodore Bilbo, he wrote that he would rather “die a thousand times than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.”
It stands to reason that the eight demented individuals mentioned above, and their avid followers had, in their own minds, good intentions, . . . believed they were doing the right thing. Common sense and a reasonable set of moral standards lead to the conclusion that, to put it bluntly, they were doing the wrong thing. Anyone who thinks it’s good to gas hundreds of thousands of people to death simply because of their ethnicity and/or religion needs their head and heart and soul examined . . . while under lock and key, mind you.
The attitudes and actions of the average Jack or Jill will most likely not result in the death of anyone, much less millions. But the attitudes and actions of anyone, if not based on humane, compassionate, carefully considered values, can be extremely destructive.
In the words of the Lenny Kravitz song, “Let Love Rule” –
Love is gentle as a rose, and love can conquer any war
It's time to take a stand, brothers and sisters join hands
We got to let love rule
After Charlie Brown sighs, Lucy ends the cartoon by saying: “That’ll be five cents, please.”