It isn’t what we say or think that defines us, but what we do.
~ Jane Austen
Someone said to me the other day, “I think everyone is sick of the preaching”.
Like a moth to the flame, I took the bait, and asked what they meant. The response was, “You know, with all these ‘issues’ – gay rights, women’s rights… I think people are just over having it in their face.”… “I mean, I don’t have a problem with them fighting for what they want… but they don’t need to ram it down my throat.”
This wasn’t the first time I had heard similar sentiments. That these ‘people’ fighting over their ‘issues’ (their ‘issues’ being their accessibility to basic human rights – just to clarify) really needed to stop making so much noise… because there were people out there who didn’t want to hear about it. People who wanted to bow out of the debate.
It got me thinking… why are some people so involved in the fight – so loyal to the cause… whilst others sit back, and wouldn’t notice if they never heard another thing about any of these ‘human rights issues’?
And more than that, how can a human being watch another, dis-empowered and oppressed group of human beings, fight for their basic human rights, fight for equality, and not stand up and want to fight with them? Why are we so scared of getting our hands dirty? Of having muddy footsteps inside our white picket fenced lives? It seems we have a tremendous lack of empathy.
‘You can go have your fight for human rights… I have nothing against it… but can you do it over there? Over where it doesn’t impact my life? My white picket fence life?’
Then I considered who I had so often heard these sentiments from; the who, was more often than not, white, straight, middle to upper class, men. That is not at all to say that this group of people are the only people to say that they are not interested in the human rights of others, or that they are all disinterested – we know that there are many men that fall into this category that are extremely involved in fighting for these causes. Similarly, there are many people, from many walks of life, expressing that they are not interested in ‘being involved’.
But in my experience, with the people who have expressed those feelings to me, the demographic has always been the same.
Throughout history, it has been this demographic that has been the oppressor. Women have been oppressed by men. The LGBT community have been oppressed by the straight community. Various groups from various communities have been oppressed by white people… This list goes on. How then, can we expect this demographic to have empathy for an issue they have never had to experience? Not only have they not had to experience it, they have been part of the group that has actively facilitated it.
I know, I know.
You, personally, didn’t oppress anyone.
So why should you bear responsibility? Why should you apologise?
You’re right. You shouldn’t. And no one is asking you to.
What you are being asked to do, is not actively facilitate it any longer. And by saying nothing… by doing nothing… you are speaking volumes.
These voices that you would rather be silent, because they tarnish the rose-coloured world you live in, these are the voices that need to be heard. Every voice – on both sides of every argument, needs to be heard. Not only the ones that we agree with, but also, and especially, the ones that we don’t. Because they force us to think. They force us to feel. They push us into developing a stance. They make us act.
It is very easy to sit in a position of privilege, and decide that you would rather not hear about others, who are less fortunate than you. To pretend that, not only is it a problem that doesn’t exist, but it is also not your problem. It is not your fight.
But just as someone born into poverty does not get to randomly choose that they are no longer poor, you, born into privilege, do not get to choose that no longer carries a responsibility. Make no mistake;
By not acting.
You are acting.