I was raised Jewish.
When I was younger, I was a member of a Zionist Youth organization called Young Judea. This was before I really looked at organized religion and found it was not for me. We frequently had weekend “retreats” to help us be indoctrinated into a way of thinking. I am not being judgmental by saying this. It is simply the fact of what was happening. And while I may ultimately question much of what I learned from such, others accept it as truth.
That is their choice. As my not accepting it is mine.
That does not mean I did not learn from such events. One specific activity is stuck in my mind for my life, because of the profound implications it has. The theme of this particular event was the Holocaust. We were divided into groups, and sent room to room where various “lessons” were set up for us to participate in. In one room, as we entered the room, a girl with a plastic bat basically started threatening us with the bat, and aggressively telling us to sit down on the floor along the wall and do as she told us.
We listened to her.
Since this was an exercise, obviously most were not taking it too seriously, and just went along because they thought they should. I alone of the members of my group refused to do what she said, and eventually got “exiled” out of the room on the end of a plastic bat.
And while I was sitting in the hallway, waiting for the rest to come out, I was hit by an epiphany.
We listened to her. Because we thought we should. Because she was the voice of authority and wielded a bat. We listened to her. I was so proud of myself for fighting her, for getting removed so I was no longer threatened by her. Yet everyone else was still in that room. Cowing to her. This girl who was a fraction of my weight, this girl who was just one in a room of many. I stopped being so proud. Because instead of just being difficult which could just as easily ended up with me just getting a solid whack from the bat, what I should have done is taken the bat away from her. And encouraged the others to stand up to her.
We simply listened to her.
Why am I bringing this memory up now? Oddly, it is from a couple of recent post from one of my blogging friends about inappropriate comments, and another post inspired by this that my sister shared. On the surface, neither of these may seem to be in any way related to my memory, but I assure you they are. In a profound way.
What determines right from wrong? Ultimately it is ourselves. We may have others try to teach it to us; or pound it into our skulls; or even scare us into it, but ultimately we each decide for ourselves what is right; what is wrong. And it is up to each of us to live right lives by what we decide is right, no matter how that decision is reached. And it is also up to us to stand up for what we feel is right, especially when others may be adversely affected too. If we stand back and simply listen to another because they shout louder; or because they are waving a bat, then we are crippling ourselves and possibly allowing an injustice to grow.
I am as guilty of this as the next person, if occasionally I find the courage to actually stand up. Because it does take courage. Especially if others do not stand up for themselves. It is so easy to simply listen to the shouting voice of authority, even if we know in our heart it is wrong.
But there is a flip side to this. Even if we wholeheartedly disagree with another’s point of view; know in our hearts that we are right and they are wrong, we have to be careful that we are not simply assuming their shoes. Do not make the mistake of shouting and waving a bat simply because we think our point of view is more right! For we become the other person by doing this.
The key is awareness. And respect. We need to be aware of our own beliefs as well as those of others. And we need to respect them as well. Differences in opinion are as much what makes us human as our ability for humor. Mutual respect allows those differences to be shared without negativity. It is when one side steps away from respect that a more aggressive stance may be needed.
If someone stands up shouting and waving a bat, without acknowledging that others disagree, then it is our duty to stand up and take that bat away. And to encourage others to stand up too. Right is not determined by the loudest shout; by the biggest bat.
Even if that bat is a gun.