At the end of a week that is sometimes gruelling, sometimes just tedious, no doubt we look forward to the freedom of the weekend. But whilst we make our plans to enjoy life and love, a niggling little whisper in the back of our minds pierces our reverie, asking, ‘Is it worth it? Why are we doing this?’
And indeed for those of us who either professionally or vocationally are engaged with promoting diversity and tolerance, and also those who by buying the Big Issue and signing petitions hope to make the world a little kinder, we might well ask: Why do we carry on trying to stand up for our principles, fighting for the rights of those who are voiceless, coming up with new strategies to make the world a better place, or trying to raise the collective consciousness?
Make no mistake, right here, right now in our developed world and the whole world, the need to defend human dignity and rights, to push for equality and tolerance continues. And the evidence of this need is not to be found in obscure human rights cases involving an even more rare minority or highly unusual situation.
The impetus to quash the inherent dignity remains as strong and blatant as if we were still in Nazi Germany.
In 2011 Colin Brewer a councillor for Cornwall stopped by a Disability Cornwall stall at the County Hall in Truro and said to a worker, ‘Disabled children cost the authority too much money and should be put down.’
The charity workers were both shocked and distressed, and the council deeply disappointed and embarrassed. Such comments caused both horror and anxiety to the public, especially those with disabled children or are disabled themselves. The Holocaust claimed the lives of over a quarter million disabled people, whose lives were deemed ‘unworthy of living’ with many more having been victims of compulsory sterilisation laws. America and over a dozen European states also practiced compulsory sterilisation programmes on people thought to have genetic illnesses and conditions during the 1920’s through to the 1950’s and even 1960’s.
Disabled people have been at the receiving end of some of the most inhuman and cruel treatment at the hands of state and society, precisely because they were viewed as somehow less than human, less than worthy.
Brewer has since apologised and resigned but his uncompassionate exhortation is a reminder that the impetus to deny humanity to some remains in full force and out in the open.
Some weeks ago I was doing voluntary work handing out information for the Cancer Awareness Campaign. One lady who was approached replied, ‘No thanks. I believe in natural selection.’ The irony was that her appearance was hardly evidence of superior genetics or rude health!
But there again in the vernacular was the open expression of hostility against disabled people and people with illness. And again in no way was there any camouflage of the intent to deny to others their inherent equality and essential, immutable human dignity.
Not everyone who is ill or disabled is an inspiring Paralympian or a celebrity academic pushing the boundaries of knowledge, but nonetheless to their families, friends and communities, they are important people, vital individuals in the bonds that link us together. How much poorer our lives, our society would be without them? How much more shallow our humanity would be were it not for the diverse experiences and perspectives afforded by those people who have either a disability or poor health?
You might well have the visceral reaction of wishing to send the Cornwall councillor some hate mail but the fact is neither him, nor the woman in the supermarket, is any different to you or I.
From the anonymous to the high profile, those with quiet public lives or high profile authorities, no one is exempt from the instinct to create and distance ourselves from the Other. Elisabeth Kubler Ross wrote in her memoir, ‘The Wheel of Life’ abut her experience visiting Maidanak concentration camp. She felt overcome by her horror at man’s cruelty and murderousness to each other. The hatred of the Nazis was brewing in her when a survivor, a young woman named Golda came up to her and told her , ‘You would be capable of doing that too.’ Kubler Ross was stunned with disbelief. How could she ever been a hate filled, murderous Nazi? She was Swiss. She was Protestant. She was middle class!
But it is the truth that anyone can be a chauvinist, a Nazi, and behave with total disregard for another’s humanity. From county councillor to supermarket shopper, mothers or soldiers, a person from the East or the West, the capacity to deny to others their equality, their dignity and life is universal, inherent in each one of us. Even in the most advanced of societies discrimination, phobias and outright hatred of difference have not disappeared. The need to continue to develop dialogue, promoting tolerance and recognising in meaningful, real ways people’s inherent human right remains a permanent, present imperative.
To silence the niggling, pointed whisper that all our efforts are somehow unnecessary or pointless is why GOLDENROOM exists, and why each day of every week we all labour with great efforts and small kindnesses to ensure that the diversity of human experiences and relationships are recognised, represented and honoured.
Editor in Chief
Online Journal for Cross Cultural Relationshttp://www.goldenroom.co.uk