The Power of Humanity: The Good & Evil We’re Capable Of

The Holocaust. Slavery. Genocide. Racism. Human trafficking. Anti-Semitism. Some occuring today and some historical. They all have in common the oppression of humanity often to secure the power of a certain people group. Another overly obvious commonality is that while they involve the destruction of human beings, they are also all carried out by human beings.

The same human race that adopts a child, distributes food to those without, devotes his life to care for the disabled, risked their lives to hide Jews, helped abolish slavery, nurses the wounded, offers therapy for mental health, empathizes with a friend who is experiencing loss, is the same human race capable of engaging in or allowing vile acts that lead to oppression, destruction of others, ultimately evil.

 

The other day I was having a conversation with my Mom about the alarming rhetoric that was adopted during era of Nazi Germany that ultimately led to entire nations following suit with the ghettoizing to extermination of Jews throughout Europe. We say things like “never again” and remind ourselves that the apathetic majority and closed mouth observers also bear responsibility for such an atrocity.

Yes, we agree that Hitler and the Nazi party were great manipulators and mastered persuasion at its finest. But ascribing the ability to recruit a mass following only to his powerful skill set overlooks the participatory role humanity played in allowing this. In other words, an entire nation or nations turned. In other words, human beings like you and

Auschwitz gates

me, with blood flowing through our veins, similar mental processing, expansive emotional landscapes, diverse upbringings and religions, fathers, mothers, sisters, and brothers made up this people group that ended up allowing or was complicit with mass genocide.

It’s easy and comforting for us to maintain the historical separation from a generation or even nation that allowed this. To develop an “us and them” mentality to the anti-semites who commenced such activity (or any of the other examples of human destruction that occurs). But what’s true is — if it happened then, it could happen again. And as an inhabitant of this earth, citizen of a modern country, and even part of a privileged societal group, a critical piece to protecting it from happening again, is admitting that we are all capable of letting this happen. I am capable of being part of a group that oppresses others on such a grand scale. I am capable of making a choice to adopt rhetoric, belief systems, misinformation, sensationalism, and submit to powers of persuasion that I empower a bigot, anti-semite, liar, narcissist, a controlling and tyrannical leader. I am also capable of participating in destructive acts. We’re the same. You, me, our parents, our children, the 40-year old German citizen in 1938. We’re part of a human race that both builds and creates beauty but also destroys and unleashes evil.

It’s scary to admit this to ourselves. It’s easier and more comfortable to say only “they” do such things as it ensures you can more easily separate yourself from the reality that you might have the power to cause destruction. It’s also alarming because it means that if we are all capable of acts of destruction, then those evil perpetrators are also capable of choosing good (perhaps with the exception of sociopaths). Ultimately, it’s exactly this – choice. As soon as we admit that within us lies the capacity for engaging in or allowing unspeakable things, but also the capacity for positively transformational things, we are freed to understand our true power. And that contributing to and fighting for what’s righteous, good, and empowering to others and to our world lies in first our self awareness and ultimately our ability to choose. But, the denial of this human reality and responsibility leaves us vulnerable to both self deception and being deceived by others.

By embracing humanity in this way, we become more conscious of the intricate kaleidoscope that makes up the external and internal lives of the human race enabling us to further appreciate our diversity but also likeness. And in that place of acknowledgement, develop awe for others and ourselves, and harness the power of choice as a weapon to fight the atrocities, we, as a human race commit.

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