Genocide is a specific term that is frequently avoided by the international community at large. It’s associated with endless complications, implications, and responsibilities that countries try to sidestep as long as possible. Because of this, the general public is not typically aware of the commonality and severity of genocide, both throughout history, and in the modern world.
When hearing the word “genocide,” people often immediately associate the term with the Holocaust. This is understandable, as this was one of the lowest points of history. However, though this may be the most heavily taught incidence of genocide, it certainly was not the only one.
I know that I personally was unaware of how grim the world still was until I came to college. I lived in a bubble where I only knew what was immediately around me, where all of the tragedies we learned about in history class were strictly history. Once I began to dive into my college coursework that forced me to uncover and discuss more recent humanitarian catastrophes, it opened my eyes to the reality that the world is much more complex and dark than I had previously thought.
Initially, the concept that certain groups of people were still being targeted out of hatred, in some cases even killed for being who they were, was beyond heartbreaking. I would describe myself as someone who is strongly empathetic to others, and because of this I didn’t like to talk about such depressing topics like genocide because it was so upsetting. But then, I got to thinking…
The right to life is the most fundamental right that every single person on this earth is born with. Regardless of ethnicity, wealth, or gender, it is yours as a human being to have. We as Americans have the right to live, to vote, to exercise free speech, to marry who we want, etc., but there are millions of people who aren’t even guaranteed protection to their right to life, and this is astounding. Uncovering this made me realize it may not be an emotionally easy issue to tackle. My emotional heartache that comes with this discussion is nothing in comparison to the heartache experienced by a family who is torn apart or the day-to-day fear of safety due to the severe oppression of the genocidaire.
Of course, I can’t change how I’m wired or turn off my propensity to empathize, so I decided to alter my perspective. I no longer view my sympathy as a weakness, but instead have turned it into a catalyst to strive for change. J.K. Rowling encapsulates the strength of compassion in the following quote: “The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet…. They [humans] can think themselves into other people’s places…. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”
At the end of the day, the uncomfortable truth that we as a society need to acknowledge is that genocide is still a common practice. Even if the reality of the situation is disheartening to learn about, ignoring the fact that humans continue to face this injustice not only perpetuates a false reality for the more privileged population, but allows these atrocities to endure without sufficient opposition to put them to an end.
As we enter a new year, I will strive to face the uncomfortable and continue to educate myself so that I can encourage others to do the same. I believe in doing this, we can build an extraordinary voice so that we will no longer solely imagine a better reality, but we can forge a safer, more comfortable reality for all.