What is my responsibility?
Nearly all we ever talk about in the public square is how we are to understand the divisions that are roiling not just America, but the western world. In some ways, the memory of the Holocaust has never been so vivid and present for us than as we struggle through our current circumstance. But too often we use it thoughtlessly – and as a political bludgeon – rather than to remind ourselves of the questions we human beings must always ask ourselves if we are to insure this level of human tragedy will never happen again. We must bring the past to the present with kindness and self-reflection rather than judgement and condemnation – understanding that hate is a human condition that we have to confront and own and not assign only to the other. Why should we remember? What is my responsibility?
Our polarization doesn’t exist in theory in far-off places – ultimately it’s a dysfunction that takes roots (and can grow) in who we are to each other right here where we live. We have already seen signs of the percolation of the anger we feel toward each other in incidents across our community. We’re who give hate oxygen to grow – or refuse to. We can refuse, and to refuse we have to talk. So let’s start the conversation. We’ll talk about hate planted in our homes, our schools and our media – and what we do about it.
A scholar studying the conditions that lead to Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, author Tim Snyder (On Tyranny, The Road to Unfreedom) argues that we have to steadfastly resist normalizing conditions that can metastasize over time. Vehement disagreement becomes separation which grows into isolation, then to dehumanization of the people we disagree with. And the hate-filled words populate so many of our conversations can too easy slip into violent action – even to world wars and to unfathomable acts of inhumanity.
“I take it that people who are not so very different from ourselves can find themselves in situations that are much more terrifying. I take it for granted that Germany in 1941 [is a place] that humans have been which means that they’re places humans can go.”
We refuse to go there. Hate is a human condition. So is generosity.
*** The header quote is by Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor who came to embody the conscience of humanity and was awarded the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize. “The best remembrance, and the best tribute we can pay to Elie Wiesel, is to commit to action.” — Irwin Cotler in The Jerusalem Post, reflecting after his death. Learn more about Wiesel’s life and work here.