Are We Them?
Some of us find ourselves in societies which place much emphasis on human dignity and the rights of the individual. It is so tempting and so convenient to look out from the safety of our respective societies and pass judgment upon those societies and those people who don’t share our values. “Look at them,” we say, “see how their society is so corrupt and so evil, I am not them, we are not them and we will never be them.”
But is this true? Can this be true?
Did you ever watch a pantomime? The actors maneuver their bodies in a way that would convince the audience that they are negotiating with a physical reality when in fact there is nothing there. The actions and the motions of the actors project a reality which is no reality.
Human dignity is real but it is invisible. Even if all of the actors on the stage of life were to maneuver their actions as if human dignity does not exist, it will still exist and it will never be stamped out. But since human dignity is invisible it is so easy to forget it or to walk right through it.
Every one of us is an actor on the stage of life and every one of us is a member of the audience. As members of the audience we look at the stage and we “see,” or perhaps we don’t see, human dignity. It depends on the actors. It is to the degree that the actors play their part in demonstrating that human dignity is a reality that the audience will see it as such. And it is the responsibility of every actor to ensure that his or her audience sees human dignity as the reality that it is.
Almost every action and almost every word can project the reality of human dignity or the denial of that holy reality. There are so many levels of projecting that reality or of denying it. A word of respect or a word of contempt, an act of kindness or an act of callousness, consideration or insensitivity, shame or honor, nobility or crassness, all of these contribute or detract to the overall image that our audience perceives.
It is not always easy to identify the right path. In some situations we need to be cruel in order to be kind, in others we need to confront and oppose in order to bring peace and in some extreme situations we may need to kill in order to save lives. There is no hard and fast rule but that we are all on the same stage and the minds and the hearts of the entire audience is interconnected. And since we are the actors, our words and our actions make all the difference because we are the show and there is no other show.
The audience will only see human dignity as a reality if it is projected as such by the actors. And human dignity will only be real in the hearts of the audience to the degree that the actors have succeeded in portraying it as such.
You are on stage, it’s your turn to act, and this is the most important show on earth.
Reflection on a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal