We used to play a game with our students before we read Arthur Miller’s The Crucible called Pitchforks or Pie Forks?
We gave the kids a list of the characters with brief descriptions and then asked them to judge if the character deserved a pitchfork (visit from an angry mob) or pie fork (accepted friend).
It was a predictable exercise at the beginning.
Abigail Williams, who had an affair with a married man: Pitchfork.
Elizabeth Proctor, the pregnant, long-suffering wife of the married man: Pie Fork.
Reverend John Hale, famous witch hunter: Pie Fork.
Tituba, voodoo practicing slave: Pitchfork.
But then we’d come back to the list after we’d read the play and re-evaluate. It was amazing what happened after we’d walked a mile in a character’s shoes.
Which was, of course, Miller’s point.
It was never lost on my students that the world was upside down in Salem and the good guys were really bad guys who hid behind their Bibles and their authority to cause the deaths of 19 people. Someone would always ask “Why were the people so stupid?”
Because they were scared.
Fear, when it has nowhere else to go, becomes anger. And anger, in the hands of master manipulators, becomes deadly.
The events of the last month have kept this lesson in the front of my heart.
The backlash against the Stanford rape victim.
The backlash against the parents of the boy who was killed at Disney World.
The backlash against those who died in the nightclub in Orlando.
The backlash against an entire religion based on the actions of an evil few.
The lack of backlash against the murder of a politician in England because of her political position.
The constant calls to raise our pitchforks, against our neighbors, our freedoms and maybe even our way of life. The angry mob, marching across social media sites, accusing and condemning those who disagree or are different.
It’s cliché, but George Santayana was right when he said “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Beware the people who call for pitchforks. They tend to lead angry mobs into dark and evil places.