When he was alive, my old army buddy, Bill McKechnie, told me that when his mother was a girl, she and her friends would sometimes visit the insane asylum for entertainment.
And in times not so much longer ago than that, people might fill the public square -- men, women and children -- to witness a public hanging ... a high point in what might otherwise be an existence that lacked high points.
I am not interested much in the moralist harrumphs and righteous squeamishness that might attend on such backward glances at history. I admit I hope never to indulge in such pastimes, but what was human remains human and I am human.
What interests me is the mind that gave its stamp of approval to visiting the insane asylum as a form of entertainment. What interests me are the righteous or smiling faces gathered to witness the gallows' work.
I too might be convinced by those around me. I too might be content to rest and relax in popular opinion. I too might be swayed: "If everyone does it, then it's OK if I do it too."
And I'm not just talking about what is grim and grisly. The same goes for what is virtuous and refined.
After the armed Chinese entered Tibet in 1959, a Buddhist monk was asked what he had feared most. His reply, "I was afraid I might lose my compassion."
It takes a lot of courage to make up your own mind -- to try and fail and try again -- but the reason for doing so becomes obvious over time: The alternative is too dispiriting for words.