Man is a Mine Rich in Gems…


Nature or nurture?  Are we empty vessels waiting to be filled with knowledge and virtues or is there at least some stuff we might already have inside us that could be accessed?  A seam of gold?  A mother lode of virtue?

Perhaps if we had a little confidence that the good is there, deep inside – especially in children – we’d be pleasantly surprised?  And more likely to find it.

Here are two true stories…

Really Human


Dr. Sunitha Krishnan has dedicated her life to rescuing women and children from sex slavery.  She and her organisation – Prajwala – have rescued and helped to educate, train and reintegrate thousands of victims of this form of slavery.  She is an inspiring, forceful and committed individual and she has some very specific requests.

She asks that everybody moved by the horrific stories she tells, takes it upon themselves to tell two people of the plight of children and women who are sold as slaves in the sex industry. She asks that we each tell two people and try to convince them to help.

That’s a pragmatic idea.

Her other request is even more heartfelt and if we all took it to heart it would probably change everything in the lives of all children, everywhere.

She asks that everybody give these victims acceptance, support and love.

Not because we are kind or altruistic.

Not as philanthropy.

Not as charity.

It’s nothing to do with us.  We should give them our love and support because they deserve it – as human beings.

As Sunita herself puts it –

Because no child – no human being – deserves what these children have gone through.

Simple truths are the best arguments.

(Be aware – this video is worth watching but know that it is also graphic and disturbing)

The Still Face


Humans are social beings.  We’re not the only ones on the planet but we most definitely belong to that group.

Our interactions with other people do more than just shape our manners and our view of the world, these interactions actually shape our physical brains.  As the saying goes, neurons that fire together, wire together. 

As we lumber about in our lives, we often believe, erroneously, that only our big actions count.

If I don’t hit you or shout at you or curse or show my disdain I can tell myself I haven’t revealed anything of myself – or done any damage to you.

But what if that isn’t true?

What if our sensitivity to response is so ingrained in us and so long-standing that we don’t consciously recognise how subtly influenced – or influential – we can be?

Everybody knows that new-born babies respond to the world around them and we instinctively try to interact even with the youngest babies.  But do we realise how vital this seemingly trivial interaction really is?

Watch the video below – if you can handle it – it tells a very interesting story.

An Answer to Evil


Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty.  To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom. Bertrand Russell

Dear Anders Behring Breivik,

A lot of the friends I met at Utoya are dead and you are the perpetrator. You are the man who, by coincidence, didn’t kill me. I was lucky.

You might think that you have won. You might think that you have ruined something for the Labour Party and for people around the world who stand for a multicultural society by killing my friends and fellow party members.

Know that you have failed.

You haven’t only made the world stand together, you have set our souls on fire and should know we’ve never stood together as we do now. You talk about yourself as a hero, a knight. You are no hero. But you have created heroes. On Utoya that warm day in July, you created some of the greatest heroes the world has seen, you unified people from all over the world. Black and white, man and woman, red and blue, Christians and Muslims.

You made your victims martyrs, immortals, and you have shown the world that when one person can show as much hatred as you have done, imagine how much love we can show when we stand together? People who I thought hated me have given me hugs on the street, people I haven’t been in contact with for years have written 300 to 400 words about how much it means to them that I survived. What can you say about that? Have you broken anything? You have united us.

You have killed my friends, but you haven’t killed our cause, our opinions, our right to express ourselves. Muslim women got hugs of sympathy from random Norwegian women on the street and your goal was to protect Europe from Islam? Your actions worked against its purpose.

You deserve no thanks; your plan failed. A lot of people are angry, you are the most hated person in Norway. I am not angry. I do not fear you. You can’t touch us, we are greater than you. We do not answer evil with evil, as you wanted it. We fight evil with good. And we win.

Benjamin Ostebo, aged 16.

The Women of Rosenstrasse


Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Russian writer and Nob...

We have become so result oriented that we have moved away from doing what we believe is right towards doing only what we believe will succeed.

This move has defined us by our successes and failures rather than our actions. Hence a moral action that doesn’t result in a ‘successful’ outcome is seen as a waste of time. Meanwhile, an amoral – or even immoral – action that brings about a desired result is seen as not only more practical but also better in every way.

This approach has very serious consequences, because the choice between good and evil is ours.  Individually.

As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn put it:

Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either – but right through every human heart – and through all human hearts. (1)

Butterfly Effect Actions for Change – Part 7:
The Women of Rosenstrasse 
On February 27, 1943, the ‘Final Roundup’, took place in Berlin. This operation involved arresting the Jewish husbands of Aryan German women and their Mischling (mixed ancestry) children.  Within hours of the arrests, 150 women had gathered on Rosenstrasse where the Jewish prisoners were being held.
By the second day, 600 women were gathered outside, holding hands, singing and chanting, ‘Let our husbands go.’
On day three, the SS were ordered to fire warning shots into the crowd – which they did several times.  Every time the soldiers fired the women scattered and hid in the surrounding alleyways and then regrouped.

“The SS trained machine guns on us: ‘If you don’t go now, we’ll shoot.’ But by now we couldn’t care less. We screamed ‘you murderers!’ and everything else. We bellowed. We thought that now, at last, we would be shot. Behind the machine guns a man shouted something – maybe he gave a command. I didn’t hear it, it was drowned out. But then they cleared out and the only sound was silence. That was the day it was so cold that the tears froze on my face.” (2)
The soldiers couldn’t be seen to mow down the flower of Aryan womanhood so the firing stopped.
Now the women were joined by others – men and women unrelated to the prisoners – and the crowd swelled to over a thousand.
On March 7th, Goebbels let the prisoners go – even 35 men who had been sent to Auschwitz were brought back to Berlin.

The women of Rosenstrasse got their husbands and children back but their courage actually achieved more than that –

…the Rosenstrasse women had forced the Nazis to make a choice: They could accede to a limited demand and pay a finite cost – 1,700 prisoners set free, if all the intermarried Jewish men were released. Or they could open a Pandora’s box of heightened protest… For the Nazis, maintaining social control was more important than making sure every last Jew made it to the gas chambers…

The protest confronted Nazis officials with an unresolved question: what to do with other intermarried Jews….On May 21 Himmler’s deputy released them all, everywhere, from the camps. (3) 

I’m sure the women of Rosenstrasse didn’t think they’d succeed when they took to the streets demanding that their husbands be released.  I’m even more sure they didn’t think other women’s husbands would be released.

But they still acted – with great courage – and did what they believed was the right thing to do, with no regard to the outcome.

Even if they had failed in their objective, their actions would still be brave and praiseworthy.

If they had stopped to consider their chances of success – they probably wouldn’t have even tried.

Makes you think… 


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Photograph – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – on a train in Vladivostock as he returned to Russia in 1994 for the first time in twenty years.

(1) —  Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – The Gulag Archipelago: 1918-1956

(2) – Nathan StoltzfusResistance of the Heart: Intermarriage and the Rosenstrasse Protest in Nazi Germany. Rutgers University Press, 2001

(3) http://www.aforcemorepowerful.org/book/excerpts/denmark.php

(4) In 1995, a memorial created by Ingeborg Hunzinger, an East German sculptor, was erected in the nearby park (which was ironically the site of a former synagogue). The memorial, named “Block der Frauen (Block of Women)” reads The strength of civil disobedience, the vigor of love overcomes the violence of dictatorship; Give us our men back; Women were standing here, defeating death; Jewish men were free.

Tsunami of Good


If you take each tiny ethical action and add it to the next tiny ethical action and continue to do this across the board – eventually you’ll  have a huge tsunami of moral behaviour which has the power to effect great change.

Unfortunately this is also true in reverse.  All those tiny and seemingly insignificant immoral actions that we all perform – the white lies, the small cheats – also add up and engulf everything, but not in a good way.

Every single thing that every single one of us does all of the time matters in the overall scheme of things.  There is no such thing as a deed – good or bad –that doesn’t have some effect somewhere.

Scary?  Maybe.

But heartening too when you think about it.

Butterfly Effects for Change – Part 6 – The Fruits of Their Labour

On July 19th, 1984, 21 year old Mary Manning, a cashier working at the Henry Street branch of Dunnes Stores in Dublin, refused to handle two Outspan grapefruit.  Mary Manning did this on the orders of her union as a protest against the system of apartheid in operation in South Africa at that time.  Manning was suspended for her actions and ten of her colleagues went on strike to protest against her treatment.

This refusal to handle South African produce by Manning and her colleagues was not well received by their employers and resulted in a strike that lasted almost three years – a very brave action in a time of great unemployment.

Eventually though, the Dunnes Stores workers prevailed and the Irish government agreed to ban the importing of South African fruit and vegetables until the apartheid regime was overthrown.

Today in Johannesburg, a street is named after Mary Manning and she and her colleagues have been personally commended by Nelson Mandela and his successor, Thabo Mbeki.

As Margaret Mead, the well-known anthropologist said –

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.

The Banality of Heroism


Philip Zimbardo, the psychiatrist in charge of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment has a new venture – he’s studying the components of heroism.  Zimbardo and his associates believe that instead of looking at heroes as the exception, we should create an idea of heroism as banal and commonplace.  They believe that we will all have occasion in our lives to make heroic decisions and if we see heroism as a universal attribute of human nature, we are more likely to do the right thing, even when we are under pressure and afraid.

Zimbardo et al believe that this reconfiguring of heroism as a commonplace attribute can guide our behaviour in moments of moral uncertainty.

There are a number of steps that Philip Zimbardo believes will help us to foster ‘the heroic imagination’ we need to progress in this regard.

  • We can start by remaining mindful,carefully and critically evaluating each situation we encounter so that we don’t gloss over an emergency requiring our action. We should try to develop our “discontinuity detector” — an awareness of things that don’t fit, are out of place, or don’t make sense in a setting. This means asking questions to get the information we need to take responsible action. 
  • Second, it is important not to fear interpersonal conflict, and to develop the personal hardiness necessary to stand firm for principles we cherish.  
  • Third, we must remain aware of an extended time-horizon, not just the present moment…In addition, we should keep part of our minds on the past, as that may help us recall values and teachings instilled in us long ago, which may inform our actions in the current situation. 
  • Fourth, we have to resist the urge to rationalize inaction and to develop justifications that recast evil deeds as acceptable means to supposedly righteous ends. Finally, we must try to transcend anticipating negative consequence associated with some forms of heroism, such as being socially ostracized. If our course is just,we must trust that others will eventually recognize the value of our heroic actions.(1)

Butterfly Effects for Change – Part 5 – Hero in ‘Train’ing?

 
 
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http://heroicimagination.org/ 
http://www.lucifereffect.com/articles/heroism.pdf 
 (1) The Banality of Heroism - Greater Good Magazine - Fall / Winter 2006-07 

Patience


Laurence Fishburne and Kenneth Branagh as Othe...

Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Kenneth Brannagh as Iago.

Being patient is an active state.  It isn’t resignation or admission of defeat.  It isn’t giving up on the things you hope to change.

It is a condition of sure and certain knowledge that the only inevitability in life is change. Sometimes, however, the change takes a while to manifest and that is where patience comes in.

The trick to patience is to focus on the coming change and not the wait – at least that’s my trick because I have to admit that patience is most definitely not one of my virtues.

But even I know that, sometimes there is no choice but to wait – in the immortal words of Shakespeare – How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?

Othello (II, iii, 376-379)

Courage


Courage is not the opposite of fear – it is the defiance of fear. Looking fear in the eye, we gird up our loins and act anyway.

However, to be courageous doesn’t mean to be reckless.

Recklessness is thoughtless.

Courage is thoughtful.

When we are reckless we don’t recognise – or acknowledge – the dangers, therefore it requires no courage to act recklessly.

Courage is what’s needed when you know what you stand to lose and act anyway.  We admire courage in others and, if we want to feel good about ourselves, acting courageously will generally help with that.

It’s easy to say we should have courage – we’d all like to think of ourselves as courageous – but if it was that easy to have we’d all be brave all the time.

Still, we can but try…

Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.  John Wayne

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Courtesy


Now here’s a misunderstood virtue.  

Courtesy.

It has come to be synonymous with pointless protocol or manipulative patter designed to delude.  It isn’t any of these things.

Courtesy is simply showing respect for others – even small children and people who have no power or influence.  Respect for their human rights. Their bodily integrity. Their views and opinions.  Their beliefs and ideas. Their homes and possessions.  Their existence.

Like all virtual virtues, virtual courtesy is worthless.  A courteous expression of respect must be just that – an expression of real and genuine respect.

Therefore, to really be courteous we must first have that respect for everybody – and then show it.  Because to be treated with real courtesy is our right, just as to show that courtesy to everyone is our responsibility.

…observe courtesy, for above all it is the prince of virtues…Who is illumined with the light of courtesy…hath indeed attained a sublime station. (1)

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(1) Bahá’u’lláh – Tablet of the World

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http://www.becauseitmatters.net/respect.cfm

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