By Shreen Vaid:
Barbara Coloroso. To those of you who are wondering who that maybe, let me tell you about this strong woman who taught me a valuable lesson at the beginning of my teenage years.
I travelled a lot when I was growing up. The school I graduated from was my 7th, might mention I joined it in grade 8. When I joined this school, I was bullied at first. It was absolutely horrible and the things which were said about me were so nasty that it devastated and broke me down.
Not only did I feel lonely with regards to friends and peers but also lonely and hollow from within. I was a lost and hopeless person who could see other girls in my grade undergoing a similar experience but did not have the courage to share my story with them and hear theirs for myself.
It was then that my school had decided to invite Barbara Coloroso to speak to us. She’d just written a book, “The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander”, and was going to talk to us about hurting one another and about violent thoughts and actions and how to overcome them.
She said a very simple thing, “The minute you place someone outside your circle of moral concern, you are equally to be blamed for what happens to them next, for you did not intervene when you could have.”
A soft voice is better than no voice.
She demanded us to raise a voice and take a stand. That talk changed me. It was the first time in a year that I had felt strong and felt like I needed to take control of my life and other things around me.
The bunch of us feeling weak were at first angry, then powerful and today, we are at peace. I learnt to intervene in a moral crisis and never considered it as someone else’s responsibility.
A few years later, when I was at university, a friend of mine shared his favourite quote with me. It said, “The hottest places in hell are saved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis.” As I read it, I shouted out in my mind, “Hey, this is just like what Barbara Coloroso had taught us.” No, the quote didn’t belong to her, but the wisdom behind it was the same.
Unfortunately, the world we live in today has so many diverse ranges of issues that could use our voices. There are the obvious ones like the Syrian refugee crisis, communal hatred which leads to violence (Xenophobia), the Kashmir unrest and the latest killings of the Indian Army soldiers at Uri. These are just to name a few on top of my head.
There is pain, helplessness, grief, struggle and injustice in all of these issues. Something else that they share in common is that they are all inflicted by men. These conflicts are just like that high school scenario of the bully, the bullied and the bystander.
I need to remember that 14-year-old girl’s fears and how she suppressed them and took sides. She decided not to be a bystander. While high school bullies were easy, real life ones are a little more challenging. But, the circle is the same. Silence will only encourage the bully more, and the oppressed will get more humiliated. Actions are the only cure for indifference.
I feel strongly for the Syrian refugees. What do I do? I learn their stories. I hear of individuals, their names, their experiences and don’t forget their fight. I remember them and in my own odd ways picture being with them to ensure that they don’t feel forgotten. Because while I cannot go and bring them from Europe to my home in India for various reasons, I can remember them. To forget them and let them be yet another fallen face would mean to hurt them for the second time. I can also create awareness about them, write about them and share their stories of resilience.
I feel absolutely disgusted when people hate based on religion. What do I do when I hear people say appalling things filled with hatred? After letting them speak, I speak out stronger and bolder against meaningless hatred. Discrimination based on things like race, religion needs to end. I read about it, learn about the “other” and removed fear and ignorance by finding common ground. I tell others to do the same.
Now comes the most challenging part. I hear the heart-wrenching cries of the Kashmiris suffering the third straight month of unrest, and I also see the tear-jerking tales of the Indian Army soldiers who were ruthlessly killed in Uri.
But, I’ve been told these are two opposite sides. I cannot side with both their narratives. Apparently, it is an “either-or” situation. I don’t get why.
I simply feel pain for human suffering. I feel anger for injustices done on individuals. I pray for peace for everyone and everywhere, it will be my concern. You cannot heal one’s wound by digging a grave for another, although that is a simpler option and a natural response to the feeling of frustration.
To hit the bully is to become the bully. We – the common people who aren’t the military or the government, the ones who vent out on social media and in our smaller communities – need to find non-violent ways of healing wounds, of standing up for the bullied.
Amid the hate messages on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp, we (the non-military and non-government personnel) need to find a voice in times of moral crisis without holding onto grudges or judgements.
You and I should focus on not forgetting these stories of struggle, the injustices suffered by men and women, and try to find resilience in their experiences. It is our responsibility to be compassionate, tolerant and empathetic while standing up for lost voices.