The recent happenings and discussions surrounding race relations in America have prompted me to return to an old blog post from 3 years ago, If I Lived Then. It was penned after digesting a series of historical books, on World War II, on the British abolitionist William Wilberforce, on the Bosnian War. I asked myself the question, If I lived then, would I be on the right side of history?
It is easy to be distant and judgmental of the great evil recorded in historical books: “I cannot believe how evil these people are.” But what guarantees us that we would not act the same way given the same situation, living in the same cage of manufactured hatred by the prevailing powers? I’d like to think that I would stand for the tortured if I lived during Nazi Germany. I’d like to think I’d champion Wilberforce’s cause to abolish slave trade in Britain if I lived in the early 1800s. But what guarantees that I would indeed be such a person given the social pressure of the time?
If I don’t have human compassion right now, there is no guarantee that I wouldn’t be part of humanity’s evil in any part of history. What I can do right now, as a 21st century global citizen, is to abolish any notion that “I am better than you” due to socio-economic status, race, education, or any social strata we have manufactured for ourselves. I need to cultivate that human compassion by seeing each person with respect and dignity. Then maybe, if I was thrown into complicated situations, I would actually have the moral backbone to stand for fellow mankind, no matter what race, religion, level of education, social status, or any group they belong to.
It has been made abundantly clear that the nature of humanity’s evil then is still the nature of humanity’s evil now. By this I mean the condition of the soul that produces the evil deeds. The attitude that undermines another human being or another group is ever present and has the potential to manifest itself in various, horrendous ways.
Racism is something each person must fight against first internally, then also outwardly. The claim of immunity, I am convinced, is of utmost danger. We all carry baggage from the past, from our upbringing, from the society we are apart of. It would do us good to examine our internal thoughts and feelings towards ‘other people’, whoever that ‘other’ may be.
The antidote of many great wars and conflicts lies in the simple, but profound, powerful statement, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” because my neighbor and me are equal. The phrase is said often, perhaps too lightly. But it carries with it such power that can counter and prevent much evil.
What a powerful display of love it was when the families of the victims in South Carolina forgave their enemy. What strength of character. This was worth pausing and thinking about.
Today, June 2015, we are faced with tests of character similar to many in history. If I lived then is no longer hypothetical, because the same question applies to now. I live now. What will I do now?