For Human Rights Day dancing with Elie Wiesel‘s speech to the US Congress on the child’s experience of human rights expressed by the man 54 years later since the day of liberation of Germany from the Nazis by the USA. Wisel expressed gratitude on the closing days of the 20th century and wondered how that century might be remembered and judged severely for the horrors and violence, but mostly for indifference.
“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.”
I turn to Pastor Neimoller for inspiration each International Day of Human Rights. Without solidarity there can be no sanctuary for the oppressed, without solidarity there can be no peace without justice, without solidarity there can be no community mobilised for change.
Indifference is a cancer to democracy, reconciliation and equity. Mediocrity takes shape as passive resistance amongst those who don’t exercise their rights and go to the ballot box or make a stand. Sure there are times when we just need to take a break and let someone else do the work on our behalf, but outsourcing what matters is becoming an international pastime when people don’t speak up and stand up for the rights of others when they themselves are safe, secure, fed, sheltered. Hearts turn to stone if they are exercising their compassion muscle.
Many have experienced the pain of abandonment as far worse than punishment; the silent treatment more painful than a raised voice; the anguish of being ignored and invisible more horrible than being noticed and scorned.
Being forgotten and becoming a footnote of history is still better than not being written into the history in the first place.
Turning off our TV screens and ignoring our social media feeds so we longer witness the tragedies of Syria and those fleeing persecution, bombs, famine, poverty, does not make it go away. Indifference will set in, masquerading as compassion fatigue as children perish, while the adults wage war. Fear and optimism walk hand in hand in the mine field of international diplomacy. A wake-up strategy is required to bring us all to our knees and beg forgiveness from the children for our indifference – what one of us wouldn’t shout out to a child if a car was coming and they were about to be hit on the road, and most of us would run to pull the child out of danger – but where is our collective intuitive response right now on this 2016 International Day of Human Rights for the children of Aleppo and indeed all around the world who are dying from hunger and thirst?
There is good and bad, black and white, and grey is the colour of indifference, no lustre, no life, a default to not caring enough to bother to take a stand one way or the other, makes no commitment. There is no grey in human rights.