Thursday, December 17

“What should move us to action is human dignity: the inalienable dignity of the oppressed, but also the dignity of each of us. We lose dignity if we tolerate the intolerable.” Dominique de Menil

(Things are busy right now so blog posts will be a bit inconsistent for a week or two (if you didn’t notice by now)… if anyone is still reading. J)

Edmund Burke is often misquoted as saying that, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing’. Burke didn’t actually say this, although it does echo some of his thoughts. But I digress…

Our world is full of atrocities. Genocide in Burma and Darfur (to mention a couple); corporate crimes against humanity through sweat shops, pollution, fraud, etc.; totalitarianism and the support dictators receive from our own governments and our banks; people giving each other the finger for some perceived slight on the drive into the city… the list could be very long. In a world full of laws, jurisprudence and litigiousness, justice is an ephemeral commodity. When it happens, it seems to be either an accident or the result of another crime. Dignity seems somewhat scarce at times.

It can be overwhelmingly depressing to think about, mostly because, since we were all kids, we’ve been taught that there’s nothing we can really do about it. We are raised to feel powerless over everything except, perhaps, our own little corner of the world, the one that exists between the walls of our home. We’re led to believe that, if we can just create that little piece of the world that is just ours, that safe, private place, then everything else can go to hell and it will be okay. We’ll be okay, us and ours, safe in our little cocoons.

Of course we’re capable of so much more. We see examples of it everyday; people who extend themselves and accomplish amazing things that nobody ever really thought could be done: Terry Fox, or that father that pushes and pulls his disabled son through triathlons, or Gandhi, or King., or Mother Theresa. They move us deeply, displaying the kind of dedication and selflessness that only heroes are capable of.

These giants would tell you that we are all capable of being heroes too. Einstein said that our responsibility as humans, in the time that we are given, is to learn to stretch out our arms to include the world rather than hide in our safe little box. That, ‘…our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.’

You know - just that. That’s all…

The thought seems daunting to me, but I remember: One step at a time. I don’t ever anticipate that I will do anything as meaningful or special as some of the true heroes of the world have done, but I can start with what’s in front of me. I can start to widen my circle of compassion. Who knows where I’ll end up if I take it one day at a time, right?

Ask most people and they will agree that the world is in trouble. Some consider it a little bit of trouble, the kind that can be solved by electing the right party next time around. Others consider it to be in a lot of trouble on a scale that requires a good old-fashioned revolution. Wherever we lie on the spectrum of concern this quote will either strike a harmonic chord with how we feel or, if we only think the trouble meter is at ‘low’, perhaps prompt a modicum more thought on the subject. Either way, wherever each of us happens to be, surely there’s no harm in widening our circles of compassion individually - just a bit.

Allowing a person a sense of dignity is such an easy thing to do: It just requires that we acknowledge them as a person, as a human being. Maybe we open a door for a random stranger at the mall instead of hurdling them to get in first. Perhaps it could mean stopping to talk to the guy on the street that we usually ignore or throw a buck at. It could mean talking to the person that always, always sits across the aisle, alone like you, on the train or the bus during the commute. And there are always plenty of opportunities to volunteer.

If we all committed to the task of allowing one person their dignity in some small but meaningful way each day; if we all took seriously the responsibility of widening our circle of compassion just an inch by the time we went to bed; if we all just took one little step and then followed it up with another one, how quickly do you think we might find that our circles overlap?

Maybe we can’t all be heroes on the scale of a Gandhi or King or a Mother Theresa, but how much more could we do if we all did a small thing together?

Could the combined aggregate tiny good of six billion or so people make an impact on a scale that rivals the massive heroism of one of the icons mentioned above? How about ten percent of that six billion? Or one percent? If we could pull that off, maybe we could get back some of the dignity that the human race has relinquished by standing by so often.

Just one little step today, and another tomorrow, and another the day after that, not worrying about what anyone else is doing; just me; just you; just a bit more than yesterday. I wonder where it might lead…