My parents in their early adult years were exposed to the horrific revelations of the Holocaust – the unimaginable slaughter of millions of Jews and others, men, women and children. The world community vowed to make sure that would never happen again. The battle cry of “Never Again” rang out and was meant to serve as a banner to be carried forth by subsequent generations. Yet, such tragedies have continued– Rwanda, Kosovo, Darfur. History shows that the tragedies of genocide have existed since the beginning of mankind.
In a civilized world, one would argue – how can this happen? How can we let these things happen? What is wrong with us? How can good people let the evil doings of a twisted few people let this happen?
I think the lessons of genocide teach us that we do have some responsibilities in this matter and that we cannot just blame others for bad things that were done. We contribute to some of the underlying culture that allows discontent and hatred to brew. We need to change the culture.
The following are the lessons of genocide, caveats that are no less pertinent today. They strongly suggest that we—
- Be aware of unproven media hype—propaganda can be our own worst enemy;
- Never dehumanize your fellow man—it’s far too easy to paint a “broad-brush” and identify others as less worthy than us or say that an entire group of people are all the same because a small group of them does bad things. That’s how close to 1 million Rwandans were slaughtered in a very short period of time in 1994. That’s how Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps and gas chambers during World War II. I think this is perhaps the most serious problem that provides the breeding ground for genocide. I have heard so many disparaging things about Russians (during the Cold War) and Muslims (during the Gulf Wars). The overwhelming majority of these folks are not evil, yet we talk about them like they are sub-human. In that sense, we contribute to the underlying culture that breeds hatred;
- Treat the family of man as we would treat our family;
- See that one person can make a difference—businessman Oskar Schindler in WWII, saving more than 1,200 people (in the movie Schindler’s List). He chose to do the right thing, albeit potentially life-threatening at the time;
- See that one person can make a difference but we need the help of a team—it truly takes a team to accomplish significant work; and
- Reach out to others and solicit their assistance—we should never be shy in terms asking for help to do what is right.
As I was reviewing the lessons of genocide recently, I realized that these are the same lessons to be learned for staying involved in the area of community improvement. We can never really work together to help each other unless we adhere to the points mentioned above. The lessons of man’s inhumanity toward others should help us realize our own humanity and the need to work together to improve our lives and the lives of our fellow citizens.
The take-home message
Genocide occurs because we often assume things without finding out the truth, because we view other people as less than human, because we don’t treat the family of man like we would our own family, because often we don’t realize that one man can truly make a difference, because people don’t work together like they should, and because we don’t ask for help as often as we should.
We can make a significant difference in our communities if we stay involved with efforts to contribute to positive change. The lessons of genocide are unfortunately the lessons of everyday life. We need to listen long and hard to those lessons so we can improve our community and the community of humankind.