COMMENTARY 779.1: Dying From the Cold Within

One of the great challenges to our humanity is acknowledging and overcoming our natural tendency to think less of and discriminate against people who are different than us racially, ethnically, religiously or ideologically.

Despite persistent rhetoric about prizing diversity, political debates often reflect disdain and contempt for those we disagree with and prejudices of all sorts are more readily stated.  Indeed, there are disturbing signs that anti-Muslim, anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic attitudes are rising throughout the world.

A poem written in the 1970s by James Patrick Kinney called “The Cold Within” reminds us what’s at stake.

Six humans trapped by happenstance,
In black and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs,
The first woman held hers back.
For on the faces around the fire,
She noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way,
Saw one not of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give,
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes;
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use,
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought,
Of the wealth he had in store,
And how to keep what he had earned,
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge,
As the fire passed from his sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood,
Was a chance to spite the white.

And the last man of this forlorn group,
Did naught, except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave,
Was how he played the game.

The logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 4

  1. Very nicely said. I have to say I was not without prejudism and I didn’t even realize how close minded I was, until my two daughters pulled the curtain from my eyes. The experience I reveal is a tribute to both of them for bringing awareness into my life and to let them know how proud I am of them and how fortunate I am to have them as my daughters.
    A few years ago, going through an immigration case in my family, I found out the prosecutor was of oriental descent. My first thought which I spoke out loud, was of dismay, as my understanding was that the orientals were against all other non-oriental Asians, of which I am one. Upon hearing my words, my older daughter Maliha asked me to stop this kind of thinking. She related how I sounded and questioned my values and beliefs. She asked me how I felt when someone said things about me that are not true. I explained I had heard from a lot of other people about orientals being against us. She then told me in no uncertain terms that this had to stop somewhere. Her message was quite clear and I understood it to mean, why not us? WE can make that difference. I have remembered her words, always. A few years later, she placed her daughter in a daycare facility with a mixture of ethnic teachers and students. Although I had a few initial inhibitions, they quickly dissolved when I saw my granddaughter learn so many things, that we never could at home. Being a doctor, Maliha also has a degree in medical ethics.
    My younger daughter Mariam, had an argument with my husband a few years ago, that I was astounded by. A person of few words, Mariam argued passionately in favor of all people, of human beings in general, no matter what their religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or color. Her argument was that we should be concerned about fair and ethical behavior versus pointing a finger at
    someone who is colored, practices a different religion than us, or is gay. I have never known Mariam to be unjust about any situation. When the time or situation calls for it, she has also let me know when I am wrong.
    I am proud of both my children’s ethics, their way of life, and the way they treat people with respect, no matter who they are. I want to take this opportunity to thank them for opening my eyes and for teaching me some of the most valuable lessons I could ever learn…….that of valuing human beings for who they are.

  2. I just wanted to add about my younger daughter, Mariam who is doing masters in public admin., and hoping to pursue a career in education or law, to be just as non judgmental then as she is now. I am certain the younger generation will learn from her by example. As far as I can see, she is following in your footsteps Mr. Josephson, and she doesn’t even know about your valuable website.
    Thank you for a great website, from which I have learned to better myself in so many ways.

  3. My pastor read this poem during a sermon when I was in the sixth grade and I have had it memorized ever since then (I am now 33). This is by far my favorite poem and it really touched me growing up in KY where prejudices of all kinds are very much commonplace. I was happy to see it shared on here. 🙂

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