BY GERRY CHIDIAC
Psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl said, “There are two races of men (people) in the world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of decent men and the ‘race’ of indecent men. Both are found everywhere; they penetrate into all groups of society.”
This is a powerful conclusion from a man who witnessed the very best and the very worst of what humanity has to offer. He gives us a valuable lens to look at the world as we try to make sense of what is going on around us.
Yet we easily forget Frankl’s wisdom and jump to conclusions without seeing the entire picture. This is particularly true in the modern world of sound bites and fake news.
Our tendency is illustrated in one of the most controversial issues in the world today, the situation of white farmers in South Africa. I will admit that I have tried to avoid this topic both in the classroom and in my writing. It is ripe fodder for extremists who wish to “prove” that white people are victims of genocide, and that they therefore need to stand together with them against those who are threatening their way of life.
Fortunately, there are credible human rights groups which are not intimidated by controversy. Genocide Watch, for example, alerts us to the fact that there is indeed polarization in South Africa. There are armed extremists who threaten and have even killed white farmers. It is a horrible situation fueled by hatred and racism, but to call it genocide is far from appropriate.
South Africa is a country that is struggling, and it has a relatively high murder rate. Its legal system is dealing with the situation as best it can. In fact, in 2011, a South African court ruled that hate speech directed at white South Africans was illegal and needed to stop.
The bottom line is that those who are suffering in the world are not served by sensationalism, nor are they served by ignorance. If we are going to help, we must seek truth, speak truth and then follow our words with appropriate action. This requires that we step out of our comfort zone and see people as people.
The fact of the matter is that in our age of enlightenment, we still have prejudices which can result in tolerance of both racism and sexism.
While it is important to prosecute perpetrators and support victims of harassment and abuse directed at women, for example, we cannot forget that men can also be victims of abuse. The numbers of reported cases of abuse committed by men far outnumber those committed by women, but experts speculate that men are even less likely to report abuse.
Several social experiments have been posted on YouTube in recent years that demonstrate how people will rightly intervene immediately if they see a man physically abusing a woman in public, but will ignore a woman doing the same to a man. While these are not scientific studies, the videos are nonetheless disturbing.
The message is clear, we need to step beyond social stereotypes. There are individuals who do good things and individuals who do bad things in every group. Challenging this topic even further is the fact that the same battle is going on inside of each one of us.
The key is to focus on acceptable and unacceptable actions, not the ethnicity or gender of the actor.
As we raise our level of awareness, as we put in the effort to seek truth, the truth becomes more obvious. When we hold ourselves to higher standards of behaviour as individuals, our societies improve, and the world becomes a better place for everyone.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students. Check out his website here. Find him on Facebook. Or on Twitter @GerryChidiac