Refuse to be a Bystander

The term genocide is a dark word that places a shadow across faces and can turn any conversation serious very quickly.  How does this happen?  Why does no one put a stop to it?  How can people kill and harm others?

These are questions that have no simple answer, just as genocide itself is a complex issue.  In developed countries (which I’d assume you come from because you are reading this blog), we often wonder how someone could resort to killing another human being.  We think of this as “inhumane” and “savage”.  The irony in this is that we often use this same “us” versus “them” mindset that is a basic cause for genocide.  By placing ourselves in a different category as other people, we separate ourselves from them.  This can lead to the dehumanization based on grounds of race, origin, or other matters.

This concept goes hand-in-hand with the the role of bystanders.  In grade school, we are always taught to not be a bystander or let bad things happen to people when you are aware of them.  When I got to JMU, I had to take a course on sexual misconduct and agree that if I saw someone who may be in a bad situation, that I would offer help.  In an article by Ervin Staub, he states that “opposition from bystanders, whether based on moral or other grounds, can change the perspective of perpetrators and other bystanders, especially if the bystanders act at an early point on the continuum of destruction.”  We do have power when we stand together with others and demand justice, especially for those who can not ask for it themselves.

Why tackle issues that are this complex?  Is there really any profit in learning about genocide?  Can I really make a difference?

These are questions I have asked myself as I’ve read and responded to more material from this class.  On the issue of genocide which there are so many different cases of, there is no one single way to solve or prevent it from happening.  When I read about stories of boys who lived in Sudan being forced to walk thousands of miles from their homes simply to find shelter and a safe place to live, it’s easy for me to want to push their struggle aside and turn back to my own worries.  Yet even across the world from where this is taking place, I have the power to learn and understand and feel for these people.  Educating yourself and opening yourself up to the experiences of others will only help you grow as a person, and expand your worldview.

By opening your eyes to the viewpoint of others, you can change your own viewpoint and see things in your own life that you didn’t before.  Genocide can be a result of a lack of humanity toward others and if that disturbs you, it should.  But you and I can combat this in our own lives by extending a hand to our neighbor and refusing to be a bystander.

-MP

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