by Richard S. Gilbert, Editor and President IINYS – December 15, 2018
At the conclusion of the Second World War, J.B. Priestley wrote what was called a “wrecking ball” aimed at English class distinctions. An Inspector Called, according to one writer “is like an episode of The Twilight Zone wrapped in an Agatha Christie mystery.” This 1945 play is having an American revival. I find it more challenging than any sermon I have heard – or preached. It haunts me yet.
A self-proclaimed inspector from Scotland Yard calls one evening on an upper class family right in the middle of an engagement party. He inquired of each one present his or her relationship to a girl who had just committed suicide. Through a series of flashbacks, each one present is implicated: the father fired her from his plant for her union activities; the daughter had her fired from a dress shop over some trifling incident; the mother at one point denied her charity help; and the daughter’s fiancé had an illicit affair with her and left her pregnant. Each one in his or her own small way had paved the way for tragedy. When it was discovered the inspector was a fake there were mixed reactions, from relief to troubled guilt.
The theme here is responsibility. Who me? In conversations with activists I sometimes discover a feeling of frustration that they can’t do more to build the Beloved Community. Framed against Koch brothers money, or Limbaugh audience reach, it is not surprising that one’s small financial contribution or few volunteer hours or an advocacy visit seem paltry. Priestley here, in addition to pointing toward class hypocrisy, suggests that it may not be a single act, but a series of actions, that have real consequences, in the case of this play, tragedy. Each member of this patrician family contributed to a young woman’s death.
My positive takeaway is that while I alone have a limited impact on positive social change, when I realize there are many more like me, I am encouraged to act. I am not alone in speaking truth to power. Frustration with the pace of social change discourages action, nothing happens, and we say with a shrug, “I told you so.” This is a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Our IINYS treasurer posts these words on his home page: “If we don’t go, they win.” This, I think, is the genius of Interfaith Impact of New York State. Alone I am a single citizen with limited power. Together, we marshal people power that resonates in the corridors of the decision-makers. Priestley’s Inspector may have been a fake, but our call is real. This session of the legislature holds so much promise for constructive change, it would be a shame if we did not seize the opportunity. Notes for Change, webinars, action alerts and Advocacy Day provide ample opportunity to act. An Inspector calls. Who me?