What can a dog park teach us about bridging great societal divides? Brilliant talk. I cannot think of a more appropriate time in our lives to hear this message. There is a difference between US AND THEM and US VS THEM. We all can go beyond our own identities and ‘packs’ to find common ground with those we may disagree with on personal, work-related, social and political grounds. We are all humans after all – this human identity is common to us all…
Eighty years ago, a middle-aged, mid-ranking diplomat sank into deep depression and watched his hair turn grey in days, as he saw the streets of Bordeaux filling with Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis.
As Portugal’s consul in Bordeaux, Aristides de Sousa Mendes faced a moral dilemma. Should he obey government orders or listen to his own conscience and supply Jews with the visas that would allow them to escape from advancing German forces?
Sousa Mendes’ remarkable response means he is remembered as a hero by survivors and descendants of the thousands he helped to flee.
But his initiative also spelt the end of a diplomatic career under Portuguese dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, and the rest of his life was spent in penury.
Portugal finally granted official recognition to its disobedient diplomat on 9 June 2020, and parliament decided a monument in the National Pantheon should bear his name.
It was mid-June 1940 and Hitler’s forces were days from completing victory over France. Paris fell on 14 June and an armistice was signed just over a week later.
Portugal’s diplomatic corps was under strict instruction from the right-wing Salazar dictatorship that visas should be issued to refugee Jews and stateless people only with express permission from Lisbon.
For those thronging Bordeaux’s streets hoping to cross into Spain and escape Nazi persecution there was no time to wait….
In a letter dated 13 June 1940 Sousa Mendes wrote: “Here the situation is horrible, and I am in bed because of a strong nervous breakdown.”
“No-one really knows what went through his mind in those two or three days,” says Dr Paldiel, who ran the Righteous Among the Nations department at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial centre for 25 years.
“Some say the duty of a diplomat is to obey orders from above, even if those instructions are not moral…
Whatever did go through the diplomat’s mind, Sousa Mendes emerged on Monday 17 June with a new determination.
According to his son, Pedro Nuno de Sousa Mendes, “he strode out of his bedroom, flung open the door to the chancellery, and announced in a loud voice: ‘From now on I’m giving everyone visas. There will be no more nationalities, races or religions’.”
No-one knows for sure how many transit visas were issued, allowing refugees to pass from France into Spain and travel onward to Portugal. But estimates range between 10,000 and 30,000, and most sought to cross the Atlantic to a variety of American destinations.
Salazar’s Portugal would later be praised for its role in allowing refugees to escape from Nazi occupation and repression, but Sousa Mendes was expelled from the diplomatic corps and left without a pension. This condemned him to live the rest of his life in the most absolute misery. Sousa Mendes survived thanks to a soup kitchen run by Lisbon’s Jewish community. In 1954 he died in obscurity, still disgraced in the eyes of Portugal’s government. His family home in Cabanas de Viriato fell into ruin, and remains so today.
“Sousa Mendes was mistreated by Salazar. He died in misery as a pauper, and his children emigrated to try to find a future somewhere else,” says Henri Dyner (one of the people saved by Sousa Mendes).
Henri’s family ended up in Brazil, before he moved to the US for professional reasons. But he remembers a man who had courage in his convictions.
“The way things are in the world today, we need more people prepared to stand up for what is right and take a stand.”
Let’s remember such heroes
and honour their compassion!
Over the years I collected a number of real stories of compassion from different time periods, cultures and geographic locations. Among them are:
- Franz Stigler
- A story of the German engineer who rescued the 2,000 or so allied prisoners from the Sebastiano Venier
- Other stories of Compassion during World War 2
- Heroism and Compassion: John Rabe
- We have to face the fact…
- Retired Japanese policeman Yukio Shige on mission to prevent suicides
- WoMEN for Women in Iraq
I’m always looking for more stories of compassion, so if you know any, please share them via a comment. Thanks so much.
“Travel has become one of the great forces for peace and understanding of our time… As people move throughout the world and learn to know each other, to understand each other’s customs, and to appreciate the qualities of the individuals of each nation, we are building a level of international understanding which can sharply improve the attitude for world peace.”
President John F. Kennedy
From Tourism for Peace
Since 1980, the United Nations World Tourism Organization has celebrated World Tourism Day on September 27. Each year the World Tourism Day has a different theme:
2011: Tourism Linking Cultures
2012: Tourism and Energetic Sustainability
2013: Tourism and Water: Protecting our Common Future
I hope the theme of the 2014 day will be ‘Peace Tourism’ or ‘Tourism for Peace’.
Nuwan Herath provides a good overview if this relatively recent concept in his article “Peace Through Tourism”:
“Peace tourism intends to reduce root causes that create situations where violence has been perceived as inevitable. It is not a replacement for various other kinds of tourism practice, but is rather intended to be a facilitator to enhance sustainable development and positive peace through the tourism industry…”
It has been speculated that the industry will reach up to 1.56 billion tourists worldwide by 2020. With such a large number of people travelling around the globe, it is not surprising that scholars and other professionals involved in the tourism industry started looking at tourism’s potential for peace making. The major assumption behind the notion of peace tourism is that when people travel frequently all over the world, it helps them get to know new people, cultures, values etc. That experience is capable of increasing mutual understanding among people who have been living in diverse cultural backgrounds. Furthermore, such travel also benefits the host countries economically and politically.
However, there is an opposing view which claims tourism is not a generator of peace but a “beneficiary of peace.” Tourism is only possible in areas where peace is present; it is absent in war zones, and much diminished in areas of high conflict and tension. Additionally, tourism has been perceived as a way of exploiting local people and destinations through the “commoditization” of local cultures. This view identifies tourism as a new way of perpetuating western dominance in the developing world…
Each of these views holds some truth, one view being more accurate in some places, the other more accurate in others. A key question to answer is how the worldwide tourism industry could be redesigned to help sustain positive peace on all parts of the globe. A very challening question, but hopefully one day we’ll find a good solution for that.
Meanwhile let’s keep learning more about each other and our cultures while travelling the world – in real life as well as via the internet.
From Morocco Peace Tours
“To all people, religious and nonbelieving, I make this appeal. Always embrace the common humanity that lies at the heart of us all. Always affirm the oneness of our human family…. Let not your differences from the views of others come in the way of the wish for their peace, happiness, and well-being.”
From Prayer for Oneness
Few facts have become more evident in our lifetime than the fact that we live in a pluralistic world and society. With the rapid increase in the transmission of information and the ability to travel on a worldwide scale has also come an increasing awareness that both our world and society contain a multitude of diverse and conflicting viewpoints on many different issues. Nowhere is this pluralism more evident than in the realm of religion. What should our attitude be toward other religions?
In spite of the differences, all major religions foster a common “religious experience” aimed at the moral and ethical improvement of man. As Ian Gardner points out, ” irrespective of the colour of the cow, the milk is white” alluding to the fact that “there is but one spiritual Truth irrespective of which Master expounds it.” John Hick, a noted religious philosopher, supports that view, providing a ‘pluralistic hypothesis’ as a solution to conflict between religions. This hypothesis is based on a simple concept: religions are based on spiritual experience of the divine truth – but even in the best of us those experiences are experienced through the lens of our cultural conditionings. Hence the differences in the way that divine truth is presented in different religions.
“Once the Prophet was seated at some place in Madinah, along with his Companions. During this time a funeral procession passed by. On seeing this, the Prophet stood up out of respect. One of his companions remarked that the funeral was that of a Jew. The Prophet replied, “Was he not a human being?” (Sahîh Bukhârî)
We are all human beings inspite of the differences between us. Let’s always remember that.
From Beyond Minds
The human mind has a tendency to categorize people into social groups. Often these social groups can create an “Us vs. Them” mentality toward people who may be different than us in some way, whether it’s race, gender, age, nationality, culture, religion, or socioeconomic status.
This ‘“Us vs. Them” mentality is a very dangerous virus that pervades many minds on this planet. Often it is so woven into the fabric of our conditioning that many don’t even recognize it in themselves. We stop seeing individual difference within the group. Instead, we see only faceless ‘They’, which is always bad or wrong, while ‘We’ are always right.
This virus of the mind limits us, keeps us in perpetual cycles of fear and violence. We feel justified, even righteous in shouting down or shooting down “them”. Not surprisingly the ‘Us vs Them’ approach is commonly used in military training.
Amazingly, studies of the ‘Us vs. them’ mentality have shown that people tend to favor a group bias even when they are categorized on relatively meaningless distinctions, for example: eye color, what kind of paintings they like, or even the flip of a coin. This tells us that we can potentially separate ourselves from a certain group of people on any random and arbitrary characteristic. Therefore, everyone is susceptible to be a perpetrator and/or victims of social prejudice and ostracism, even if the only difference is a star on a tummy, like in the case of Dr. Seuss’s plain and star bellied Sneetches depicted below.
from Us vs. Them
From evolutionary perspective ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality makes sense. We’ve evolved to perceive these social categories as during tribal times, it would be beneficial to perceive unfamiliar people as a potential threat and treat them as such for protection and security.
Today many of these social categories and stereotypes are propagated by society, tradition, and culture. We see that all the time in politics (Republicans vs. Democrats), war (Palestine vs. Israel), sports (Mets vs. Yankees), and other aspects of our culture. Even though this mentality is not relevant in modern conditions and creates unnecessary tension and antagonism between everyone, we are struggling with getting over this toxic meme.
How can we fight this powerful virus of the mind and bridge the gap between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’?
Steven Handel believes that first of all, we need to “become more aware of our tendency to put people into groups and create an “Us vs. Them” mentality. Then, instead of seeing people in groups, we should try to see everyone as an individual worthy of respect, equality, and kindness, regardless of what groups they may be categorized in. If you choose to associate with a group identity, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Just be super mindful of it and be cautious if that identity starts to have a negative influence on how you view other people who you don’t identify with.”
Like Steven Handel, I try to identify with everyone in some way. I believe at the core we are all human beings and want the same things in life, regardless of our race, religion or culture. We all want to know our family is safe. We all want to be loved and appreciated, have food on the table, enjoy good health. In that sense, we are all very similar and are connected as one.
* * *
“It is not enough for journalists to see themselves as mere messengers without understanding the hidden agendas of the message and myths that surround it.”
Defining propaganda has always been a problem. The main difficulties have involved differentiating propaganda from other types of persuasion, and avoiding an “if they do it then that’s propaganda, while if we do it then that’s information and education” biased approach. Personally I prefer the following definition provided by Garth Jowett and Victoria O’Donnell: “Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist.”
What is modern propaganda? For many, it is the lies of a totalitarian state usually associated with Nazis and Communism.
Today, we prefer to believe that there is no submissive void in our society that could be manipulated by propaganda. Is that really so?
Propaganda does not always come in a form of posters or slogans. As history shows, selection of certain story angles and facts for the mass media distribution is a much more effective away of manipulating public perception while maintaining the illusions of personal freedom and choice. The media’s truly the most powerful entity on earth when it comes to propaganda. Internet can facilitate the spread of facts and real life photos misrepresented in line with a certain agenda and supported by false generalisations such as “we are all good, they are all bad” etc.
What can we do to counteract propaganda in our societies? Not all people can write anti-propaganda articles and make films like John Pilger. However we all can:
- learn to critically evaluate everything we see and hear
- teach our children to question everything and think critically
- challenge our own beliefs and biases that we were brought up with
- open our minds to new perspectives and points of view.
- make friends with people from different cultural backgrounds to learn more about their lives and beliefs
- engage in discussions with people from different cultural backgrounds to build relationships, improve understanding and dispell any existing myths and propaganda.
- read and learn more about other cultures and other people.
I’m very grateful to all people the blogosphere who helped me to learn more about their cultures and beliefs and dispelled some of the myths I was brought up with. We are the world, we are the people, we are one great family. It is time to realise that a change can only come when we stand together as one.
- The new propaganda is liberal. The new slavery is digital.
- Defining propaganda
- Governments don’t want a population…
- The illiterate of the 21st century…
The belief that everyone, by virtue of her or his humanity, is entitled to certain human rights is fairly new. Its roots, however, lie in earlier tradition and documents of many cultures; it took the catalyst of World War II to propel human rights onto the global stage and into the global conscience.
Throughout much of history, people acquired rights and responsibilities through their membership in a group – a family, indigenous nation, religion, class, community, or state. Most societies have had traditions similar to the “golden rule” of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
The idea of human rights emerged stronger after World War II. The extermination by Nazi Germany of over six million Jews, Sinti and Romani (gypsies), homosexuals, and persons with disabilities horrified the world. Trials were held in Nuremberg and Tokyo after World War II, and officials from the defeated countries were punished for committing war crimes, “crimes against peace,” and “crimes against humanity.”
Governments then committed themselves to establishing the United Nations, with the primary goal of bolstering international peace and preventing conflict. People wanted to ensure that never again would anyone be unjustly denied life, freedom, food, shelter, and nationality.
Member states of the United Nations pledged to promote respect for the human rights of all. On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the 56 members of the United Nations.
The notion of Human Rights has changed the way states can be seen. Traditionally states were perceived just like big people: it was believed that what is true for human conduct is roughly true for state conduct, too. The problem with that paradigm is that although we talk about states as unitary actors – Russia decided to do this, America did that – while states are actually made up of individual persons, each of whom have their own rights and identity.
As David Rodin says, “When you start thinking about things in terms of human rights, it’s a completely different way of thinking about values and ethics. In the old tradition of the ethics of war, chivalry was central. The idea was that you would show restrain [towards civilians] in your military action because you were a great and noble warrior… but it was very much about your own virtue. To think about things from the perspective of human rights is to completely invert that relationship, because what you do is place the person affected at the very centre of the view.”
According to the new paradigm, civilians and enemy combatants are recognised as rights-bearers, who can hold soldiers to account if they fail in their duty to respect those rights. As David Rodin says, “Simply being a member of the armed forces does not absolve you of responsibility for the actions you are taking, for killing in war and for ensuring that violence is directed only at those who are morally liable for it.”
According to that paradigm, only people possess a right to self-defence, because only people have a life to lose. War isn’t a battle of leviathans, where each state stakes its rightful claims. Rather, war is a multitude of human rights violations, committed by and against individual people, each violation triggering each victim’s right to self-defence.
In a world organised around the idea of state sovereignty, where states were believed to possess the right to be free from foreign interference, humanitarian intervention was something of a contradiction. Yet if we think first and foremost about the basic rights of humans rather than states, as Rodin suggests, then this conflict dissolves. Instead, we see that states have a responsibility to protect the rights of people, both their own citizens (in the case of self-defence) and the citizens of other states (humanitarian intervention)… And if citizens and officials can’t or won’t protect the rights of people within their own borders, then the responsibility to intervene falls upon the international community: the citizens and officials of other nations.
Is war then a necessary evil in the protection of human rights? How do you fight justly in a war given you have to fight in some kind of way? Should the universal costs of the war be comparable to the universal benefits of the war?
While allowing us to look at a war from a different perspective, Human Rights paradigm still has lots of unanswered questions and it is hard to say at this stage whether this paradigm will turn out to be a mere utopian concept or whether it will help to bring stability and peace to all humankind. I want to believe like David Rodin that it will help to effectively reduce or even eliminate the armed conflict. I wish so much it will…
- Short History of Human Rights
- The Ethics of War: Shared Problems in Different Traditions, (Rodin, David and Sorabji, Richard, Eds.), Ashgate, London, November 2005
- “The Last Utopia: Human Rights in History” by Samuel Moyn
From Quotes Valley
From Global Awakening
“Perhaps it is just me, but I’d be wary of anyone whose belief system is the only thing standing between them and repulsive behavior. Why not assume that our humanity, including the self-control needed for a livable society, is built into us? Does anyone truly believe that our ancestors lacked rules of right and wrong before they had religion? Did they never assist others in need, or complain about an unfair deal?
Human morality must be quite a bit older than religion and civilization. It may, in fact, be older than humanity itself. Other primates live in highly structured social groups in which rules and inhibitions apply and mutual aid is a daily occurrence. Acts of genuine kindness do occur in animals as they do in humans. Altruistic behavior serves a cooperative group life, which benefits the actors of such behavior, yet the behavior is fueled by its own autonomous motivations, which vary from self-serving to other-regarding.
The animal kingdom offers so many examples that I surely cannot summarize them here (see my new book, The Age of Empathy), but the interesting part is not so much whether animals have empathy and compassion, but how it works.
In one experiment, we placed two capuchin monkeys side by side: separate, but in full view. One of them needed to barter with us with small plastic tokens. The critical test came when we offered a choice between two differently colored tokens with different meaning: one token was “selfish,” the other “prosocial.” If the bartering monkey picked the selfish token, it received a small piece of apple for returning it, but its partner got nothing. The prosocial token, on the other hand, rewarded both monkeys equally at the same time. The monkeys gradually began to prefer the prosocial token. The procedures were repeated many times with different pairs of monkeys and different sets of tokens, and the monkeys kept picking the prosocial option showing how much they care about each other’s welfare.
A flourishing new field of evolutionary ethics focuses on how humans solve moral dilemmas (usually not in a rational Kantian way), which parts of the brain are involved (often old “emotional” parts), why moral tendencies evolved in the human species (probably to promote cooperation), what kind of animal parallels can be found (from prosocial tendencies to obeying social rules), how empathy evolved out of mammalian maternal care (which explains why in human adults the hormone oxytocin stimulates trust and empathy), and how religion piggy-backs on moral sentiments to promote a cohesive society. The sequence of how various tendencies came into being is: first social instincts and empathy, then morality, and finally religion…
If human morality is part of the larger scheme of nature, there is neither a good reason to look at evolutionary theory as undermining morality nor to look at God as a requirement for it. … I have never seen convincing evidence that a belief in God keeps people from immoral behavior. Those who think that without God humanity would lack a moral compass totally underestimate the antiquity of our moral sense.”
From Morals Without God