Forget this "When good men do nothing…"

Reading books can give a distorted idea of what evil is, and what it means to be a good person. And especially when we start using falsely attributed quotes that are both misleading and wrong, we need to reconsider what it actually means – to do good.

The power of a good story

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of good books, with stories that stay with me, hopefully forever. But I have always read a lot of books. As a child, I would go to the library every week and find a new set of books – 6 as that was the maximum. Carefully selected of course, as it would have to last me a week. Continue reading “Forget this "When good men do nothing…"”

Rebuilding Trust: Who to Trust in a Nihilist World?

People often wonder what they would do in grave situations. Would they jump in the water to save a person from drowning? Or would they look the other way? Discussions regarding this often surmount to a general shrugging of the shoulders: we don’t know, how could we know and let’s leave it at that.
In one of the leading Dutch newspapers it was reported that a group of UN human right watchers declared that seven leaders of the bahá’í community in Iran, charged with espionage and corruption, have been held in prison for five years now, solely due to their choice of faith and should be released immediately. This imprisonment is not the first or only action against bahá’ís in Iran, nor is it something extraordinary when taking leaked memorandum from the Iranian government from 1991 into consideration. Bahá’ís have been barred from working and from education for years. According to some, all this can be seen as a first step in a larger scheme: the genocide of a specific minority in Iran.
How should we respond to such a message? More precisely: what can I do? Do I even have the right to pass judgement on another country, with laws I am not familliar with and which I cannot understand even if I wanted to. How can I protest against another paradigm? I am a citizen of my own country, abiding its laws and trying to live a good and proper life according to its own standards. Whenever possible, I like to support that what I think is good, and work towards a better future. Or, at least that is what I like to think about myself.
This world, my world, my universe, is created that way. I consume media that informs me of everything that happens around me, in a way that confirms my world and the opinions and thoughts I have about it. I get my daily feed of misery and calamities from around the world at breakfast, and am then considered to continue on with my life as if it didn’t affect me. Perhaps that’s a good thing, as the economy relies on people going about their business. If everybody would stop whatever they would otherwise be doing and start to think about what they can do in order to change things, total chaos would emerge.
So here I am, getting all worked up about this one instance of injustice, and I find myself at a loss. The nihilist perspective on things, that is so intimately connected to present Western society, starts to kick in: Whatever I do, nothing will change. I am utterly alone. If the UN cannot change it, why should I even try or care? I am already doing something, as I am part of the United Nations, being a citizen of one of its member states. Therefore, I shouldn’t concern myself with wanting to change things.
The problem with thinking about ‘change’, with wanting to change something, is that one needs to presuppose something that is worth giving up the status quo for. If there is no alternative, why give up on the present system, even tough we might realise its lacks? Especially in a liberal environment, with an emphasis on the right of everybody to have an opinion on personal matters such as faith, it becomes very difficult to take a stand not only in favour of your own point of view (taken that you even have one!) but against the views of somebody else. That is one of the reasons why it is so difficult to trust the system we have put in place to handle injustice. In order for change to occur, we need people, lots of people, to take action personally. To work constructively together with others, to let go of own’s own personal goal, and instead let justice and truth become the most important objectives. Unfortunately this all sounds very utopian and naieve.
So, what can we do? Perhaps we should begin to stop trusting not just the information given by the media but the paradigms they actively insert into our minds. We should stop trusting people who claim nothing can be done. Or, as an alledged Chinese proverb tells us, ‘man who says it cannot be done, should not interrupt man doing it’. Instead, we should consider trusting ourselves. It is governments who profit from citizens who complacently follow orders. Although brainwashing might not be as obvious as it was done during the Nazi government, also in the West our information and opinions are largely based on our education (governed by the state) and our sources (also governed by the state).
Does this mean that we should not trust the state? No. But it does mean that we should trust our selves more than we can ever trust somebody else. That includes thinking about what we can do for and in society, letting go of the thought that we are only one drop in the ocean.
I’ve often wondered at the people who saw the animal trains full of people pass by, during the second world war. The cries must have been heard. And there are stories of people trying to bring them some relief in the form of water. But those stories are few, because killing people is an effective way to prevent them from speaking. And the people who looked the other way when those trains passed, are not the ones who will speak up. They simply accepted the status quo and went about their own lives. They use the same psychological measures to acquit them from any responsibility as we do now.
I do think we have to regain trust in ourselves above anything else. We have to find a way to let go of patterns of thought that limit us in our endeavours. If we don’t, how can we claim to be different from those who looked away when those millions of Jews and other ‘criminals’ were transported to their death? When we do not think for ourselves we are the same. And not out of necessity, but out of choice.