Recently I was invited to go with some good friends to a live performance of The Sound of Music. The music (or the sound of the music, anyway) was amazingly powerful, and the well-known story portrayed onstage was beautiful as always. I’ve seen, read, and heard this story many times, but on this occasion, there were several things that especially stood out to me, and I’ve been pondering them ever since.
The von Trapp family lived in Austria during some of the most horrific years the world has ever known. During this time, Hitler’s maniacal regime affected many parts of Europe. The Sound of Music takes place at the time when his influence reached Austria and threatened to (and eventually did) take charge of the country. This threat made many Austrians uneasy. Perhaps some things about the new regime seemed off, but everyone seemed to be going along with it, so few people dared to speak out or act differently. The von Trapp family were an example of those who wouldn’t go with the flow.
There are several scenes during the musical where Captain von Trapp’s friends try to convince him to stop questioning and to just roll along with the Nazi regime that is inevitably coming to Austria. They tell him that the world is changing and that it’s best to change along with it. Just go with the flow and you’ll be fine, they say. It’s coming; you can’t stop it, and standing tall when everyone else is bowing is dangerous. You’ve got to do what’s best and safest for yourself – take care of you. And besides, “you don’t really have to bow; just stoop a little!”
On one occasion, Captain von Trapp’s ‘friend’ says: “It’s going to happen anyway; just don’t let it happen to you!” However, his friend has it all wrong – those people who submit blindly to the new regime, who take orders without questioning – those are the people who are letting it happen to them. They let it decide their life and their freedom without any questions – without a fight. Patrick Henry would describe these people as “lying supinely on their backs and hugging the delusive phantom of hope, until [their] enemies [had them] bound hand and foot”! The von Trapp family did not let the Nazi regime happen to them. They decided to stand out and be different, sacrificing their comfortable lives for the ideals they believed in.
The thing we must always remember is that “If 50 million people say something foolish, it’s still foolish.” Just because something is socially expected doesn’t mean it’s right. Just because the Nazis have guns on their side doesn’t mean they’re doing the right thing, and it doesn’t mean it’s right to submit under them. It might be frightening to stand against them, but it’s better than siding with them – than giving up our standards and compromising our character. And yet so many people just decide to go along with the flow. They don’t want to cause ripples in the peaceful lake of blind obedience. What they don’t realize is that ripples often reach the shore.
So what do we do? If something doesn’t seem right, don’t idly wait for others to stand up. Don’t wait for society to just suddenly change – it’s not in the nature of society to do so. ‘Society’ is not an entity capable of thinking and acting for itself. Society is made up of individuals, who are able to think and act; thus change has to start with the individual. If you want someone to stand up for something, don’t wait. When you see something that needs to be done, don’t expect someone else to do it. Take responsibility and do it yourself; stand up for it, even if you think you stand alone. Because if you don’t, who will?
During the Holocaust, which people hid Jews from the Nazis at the risk of losing their own lives – or worse? I’ll tell you who didn’t – definitely not the people who just went along with the flow of society and obeyed orders without questioning. The people who hid Jews were the people who were willing to be different and stand out. They were people who refused to just roll along with the flow unquestioningly. They were people who sought out truth on their own instead of just meekly accepting what was told to them. They were people who based their foundations on unchanging principles, and they solidly refused to compromise those principles even though the rest of the world pressured and threatened them to leave their foundations behind. These people broke with the prevailing beliefs and attitudes of the time, and today we praise them as heroes who dared to be different in a world where difference was (and sadly still is) unacceptable.
Why is America called “the land of the free and the home of the brave”? The answer: America will only be a land of freedom if we are brave and stand up for the things we know to be true. How can a flag of freedom wave over our country if we’re not brave enough to stand up for her ideals? Standing up and speaking out is frightening. But to keep freedom, we must defy fear and be brave. We cannot just blindly submit. We must be educated and informed. We must have a solid understanding of what is right and what is wrong in a world where many people think that truth is relative. And we must be prepared to be different from everyone else.
The home of the brave must be defended by those who are brave. May we always have the courage to do what is right, even if that means sacrifice.
Freedom can only be kept by those who are willing to give everything for it.