"Never trust a man who agrees with you. He's probably wrong."
from Savvy Sayings,
compiled by Ken Alstand
Russ had very strong convictions.
About politics. About faith. About people.
Sometimes having strong convictions can be a weakness. Sometimes it can be a strength. Russ' convictions were a strength. A moral compass.
What was especially admirable about Russ' convictions was his willingness to discuss them. He generally wasn't out to argue about them. Nor was he out to convert others to his line of thinking. He was willing and able to present his opinions and convictions clearly and intelligently. And he was willing to listen thoughtfully and carefully to opposing views if they were presented in the same fashion.
(Russ revealed that this wasn't always the case. Russ said that before he gave up drinking, he was always right. And ready to fight anyone who thought otherwise.)
Early in our friendship, I had given Russ Robert Fulghum's book, Things I Wish I Had Written, a collection of quotes and excerpts. I warned him that I couldn't recommend the book whole-heartedly, because there were many quotes that I didn't agree with. Russ commented, "Heck, if you only read what you agree with, you might as well not read at all." For him, disagreements were a chance to examine his own beliefs.
That may be obvious to many, but it was a revelation to me.
One area where we agreed to disagree concerned the concept of evil.
We both agreed that evil exists. And that it was not just some vague abstract idea.
But I feel that all people are basically good. That individuals just do bad things - some more often and/or more seriously than others. And I feel that since the possibility of "redemption" (becoming good) exists, then I should treat everyone "better than they might deserve" - to allow and possibly encourage a change for the good.
Russ agreed that humanity is God's creation, and therefore is good. And that there is always a chance for redemption.
But he was strong in his conviction that there are evil people in the world. People who abuse authority, take advantage of the weak, create disharmony, ignore the needs of others. In short, people who, willingly and by choice, bring evil into the world through their thoughts and words and actions.
And he felt that being nice to these people was both hypocritical and ultimately destructive.
"You might think that you are helping the situation by being quiet. Or by being 'friendly'. But look at what Christ said to the Pharisees, "You snakes! You viper's brood" Or what he said at the Sermon on the Mount. "Woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort." Or think of Hitler or Stalin. Or look at the atrocities done to the American Indians. Or think about the struggle between good and evil in almost every book we read. Or think of the bullies in your own life."
"Somebody once said," he went on, "that the easiest way for evil to succeed is for us to remain silent."
The concepts of good and evil, of redemption and destruction, remained a constant theme throughout our discussions of movies and books and life in general.
I'm not convinced that he was correct.
But I'm no longer sure that I am either.
Russ felt strongly about the existence of evil in the world. He never hesitated to point out injustice done to others. I often watched him stand up for and help those that he felt were mistreated.
At the same time, whenever Russ himself was treated unfairly, he reacted with heroic self-control and discipline. (I call it heroic, because it was not an expression of meekness, but rather the result of a great inner struggle.)
A quiet giant of a man, often hounded by a pack of jackals.