This blog title, extrapolated from quotes by Rabbi Hillel, (110 BCE – 10 CE) a famous Jewish religious leader, serves as the foundation of the Judeo-Christian belief in ethical reciprocity, or the “Golden Rule.” (You remember “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” Or some such…) Those words challenge us today to think about the cascading atrocities erupting across the globe and remind us that individually and collectively, we have a moral, ethical, human responsibility to one another. From the comfort of our homes, with the distance of miles and oceans, it’s all too easy to leave ‘it’ to the next guy. It is all too easy to relax in our easy chairs, sip coffee or wine, shake our heads and point our fingers and not think about the millions of refugees stumbling across countries looking for somewhere safe to live.
We grumble aloud, jump on our soap boxes, shout out easy, one-dimentional solutions and over-simplify enormously complex problems, boiling them down to a simple matter of right or wrong, do or don’t. After all, it’s way easier to over-simplify huge, big problems, like crime, violence, drugs, poverty, immigration or the Middle East than it is to take the time and energy to learn about and try to grasp the complexities. It takes years of study to appreciate the centuries-long history of oppression and conflict; to understand what motivates these fights over water and land, oil and power, freedom and slavery, tyranny and justice.
We are heartbroken by the violence in Paris, the slaughtered elephants in Africa, young girls kidnapped by Boka Haram, children murdered in schools, bombs exploding in the Boston Marathon, innocents shot in black churches and our hearts go out to the millions of Syrian refugees driven from their homes by homicidal maniacs rampaging through the Middle East. We blame their leaders and our leaders, the CIA and the French Police, we blame the Democrats or the Republicans and we blame the Muslims. We condemn them for their poverty, their lack of resources, we blame them because terrorists might hide in their midst. We speak in generalities, we over-state the facts, we overlay fact with feelings and we speak authoritatively with less than a smattering of actual information.
The one thing we don’t do is hold ourselves accountable for our own narrow perspective, our lack of information or our inhumanity. We excuse ourselves because we are upset, because we are afraid. Afraid that the oceans will not protect us, that our borders are not ironclad, that those people over there won’t stay over there and that the worst violence since the Atilla the Hun could be upon us in an instant.
That’s reality, our current unsafe reality.
Our fears are neither unreasonable or irrational, but at the same time they don’t give us license to forget our basic human and national values. There are no easy solutions to any of this, but we can start by learning more about the things we fear. We can start by not jumping on the bandwagon because it displays the brightest streamers. We can start with our own personal, religious and national values. No, I’m not talking about those right wing Republican values, but more basic ones that sages, philosophers and great thinkers talked about.
I am reminded of a powerful, provocative poem written by Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) following the Nazis’ rise to power that addresses themes of persecution, guilt and responsibility.
Its text can be found in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
First, they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then, they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then, they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then, they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
I say again, “If not me, then who? If not now, then when?”