An Innocent Bystander





Alex Tang



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I'm Only An Innocent Bystander


Letter to an Innocent Bystander is a chapter from Thomas Merton's book, Raids on the Unspeakable. This is a collection of Merton's prose which deals with his concern for the world of the Sixties. This book has an unusual prologue as the author wrote some advice to his book, "Well, Raids, you've grown up now. It is time for you to get out and meet people as the other books have done. They have usually managed pretty well on their own. They were, for most part, well mannered. As for you, you may need special advice. I must say you have proved yourself to be a bit unsual. It's your poetic temperament..." Unlike his other books, Merton draws on a large range of poetic, mytholgical and even Arabic literary devices to bring his comments about society across. Hence he is afraid he might incur the wrath of the Church who prefers to stick to 'devout' literature.

Back to the chapter, Letter to an Innocent Bystander. It has a powerful impact on me when I read the closing segment... "To illustrate what I mean, I will remind you of an innocent and ancient story, of a king and his new clothes. You know it, of course. It has been referred to somewhere in psychoanalytical literature. Tailors deceived a king, telling him they will weave him a wonderful suit which will be invisible to any but good men. They went through all the motions of fitting him out in the invisible suit, and the king, as well as all his courtiers claimed to "see"and admire the thing. In the end the naked king paraded out into the street where all the people were gathered to admire his suit of clothes, and all did admire it until a child dared to point out that the king was naked. You will pehaps find that my thought has taken on a sentimental tinge. But since the times has become what they have become, I dare to blurt this out. Have you and I forgotten that our vocation, as innocent bystanders- and the very condition of our terrible innocence-is to do what the child did, and keep on saying the king is naked, at the cost of being condemned criminals? Remember the child in the tale was the only innocent one; and because of his innocence, the fault of others were kept from being criminal, and was nothing worse than foolishness. If the child had not been there, they would have been madmen, or criminals. It was the child's cry that saved them." (p.61-61)


I find that condemning in the times and occasions when I should have spoken out but did not. Often for fear of disturbing the status quo by rocking the boat, or losing my reputation, or fear of retributions, and just being apathetic. Because of that, I have lost my innocence.  


|posted 8 May 2007|



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