Photo taken from Wikimedia commons;
Arthur Miller’s The Crucible play cover.
What is your favorite story you have ever read? Please explain what life lesson you learned from reading it.
One of my most loved stories is The Crucible by Arthur Miller. But I never expected it to be. As a younger person, I liked things liked fantasy or science fiction books. Maybe Ender’s Game was more of my style. The Crucible sounded like it would be a really boring book – and it did not help that I was being assigned to read it in a class.
But then it happened – I liked it. I sat on a train reading it.
I think what got me about it was that something had happened in the new recently – something that I was kind of disturbed by.
In 2013, a woman named Justine Sacco took a flight from New York to South Africa. She was 30 years old and the senior director of corporate communications at a company called IAC. Sacco was kind of light feminist. She started making some silly jokes about the inconveniences or observations around her travels on her Twitter. But she had no idea how one joke she was going to post was going to affect her life.
Before the final part of her trip to Cape Town, Sacco tweeted a tweet that pretty much ruined her life for a year – and still has consequences to this day.
“Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!”
In this Tweet, Sacco was making fun of how privileged she was. No one said anything at first or responded – which she expected. So she put her phone away and got onto her flight. But what happened when she landed and checked her phone was insane.
As soon as she landed, she got a text from someone she hadn’t talked to since high school: “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” Then from her best friend: “You need to call me immediately.”
Over the course of 11-hours, people worldwide started sending her hate messages over how terrible and racist she was. People were hoping to get her fired – people were hoping to shame her off the internet – almost shame her out of existence. And she did get fired. It was a PR nightmare for her company after all.
When I heard about that story, I was pretty outraged too. Not outraged at Justine Sacco- but the people mindlessly shaming her. To me it became really clear that this was not really “moral crusade” like they said, but it was just an opportunity to be a mob and to let people’s own frustrations out. This had nothing to do with Justine Sacco and everything to do with everyone else.
So what does this have to do with The Crucible by Arthur Miller?
Maybe this picture will help. -Nicholas Hytner’s The Crucible (1996) film.
The story goes that a young farmer and his wife Elizabeth get caught up in a huge trial that has lots of moral consequence. John Proctor had at one point committed adultery with a servant girl. His wife then cut off his contact with her. Abigail, the servant girl, tries to get back with him. He rejects her, and maybe this is why she does what she does next. Abigail, along with the help of other young girls, starts accusing people of witchcraft. One of the people she accuses is John Proctor’s wife, Elizabeth. This all takes place in the historical Salem Witch Trials.
Yes, that is really a part of American history – a bunch of people listening to wild accusations about witchcraft – and putting people to death because of it.
(You can read more at the Wiki page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salem_witch_trials )
The book – and the history – shows us clearly that when people are afraid and/or angry, they lose themselves to mass hysteria. Simple people can fall into a raging mob. We forget ourselves and turn on anyone who is a convenient person to throw our fears and rage on.
I think the people who believe that the point of the play The Crucible is to show bigotry or focus on religion miss the point a little – which is not to say that those things aren’t in there. But the worst and most important thing I learned is just how people can use any reason to turn into a mob if they do not check themselves. I saw it time and time again. We get ourselves caught up in something we think is a good cause – that’s the worst of it.
The people who were taking down Sacco thought that they were beating up on racists and privileged people. They felt totally justified, like they were doing the world a big favor. Just like that, the people of Salem must have felt witchcraft was something so evil and offensive to God that their behavior could be justified.
The message for me is not to just leave my morals but to be careful. To keep my wits. To not jump to conclusions. To not just get overcome with passions and jump along with whatever people are doing. Most of all, the book made me think of kindness. If people had been more kind in all cases – even if they shot down the thing they thought was evil – they wouldn’t have had to destroy people’s lives to do it. The book always reminds me of Justine Sacco. And nobody waited for Justine to land.
We have to be sensible. We have to be reasonable. We have to be charitable.
In another blog post, I talked about the effective mental tricks that Donald Trump uses when he talks. I will be clear – I do not think the man is evil. But there is definitely a little bit of hysteria around illegal immigrants from his voter base. Just like there is a little bit of hysteria around the fact that there are real Trump supporters. Everybody is heated this election and around the world there is a lot of turmoil. I worry that we will lose ourselves once again.