Recent tragic, violent acts demonstrate the need for people everywhere to stand up for human value and dignity. As Americans, it is our duty to help our country unite for decency, respect and kindness toward all people regardless of differences.
We need to share more than just the continent that we live on. We need to create a nation united and dedicated to making a country where all citizens belong and there are no insignificant people. These are achieved through having shared ideals and values that put people first. Maintaining these requires serious work that every generation must participate in and commit to keeping.
Our nation needs citizens dedicated to the ideal of “love your neighbor as yourself.” This kind of love requires action and courage. It changes how we teach and live. It is reflected in our laws and daily acts. It necessitates that we be mindful of how our words affect others. It requires us to be much more aware of the attitudes we share on social media. It depends on us having courage to speak up when these ideals and values are violated.
When we dehumanize or marginalize any group, we are devaluing all of us. Dehumanizing people cannot be tolerated at any level. If we do this, we risk returning to a past that did not hold every human life as sacred. This resulted in terrible atrocities.
An important historical event in Denmark occurred in 1943 when the Nazis took full control of the Danish government and began rounding up their Jewish people. Many citizens worked together and risked their lives to save nearly 8,000 individuals. They took care of the houses, personal belongings and pets of the Jewish people while they were away in hiding.
The Danish government insisted that the Nazis allow their officials and the Red Cross to inspect the conditions of the 500 Jewish people that were captured. They insisted that they be allowed to send food and clothes. As a result, the Danish prisoners were treated better and not sent to the death camps. Before the end of the war, they negotiated with the Nazis and secured the release of their Danish citizens. The Danish government took about 40 buses into Germany, in the middle of the war, and brought their people home.
Later a study questioned those that had risked their lives. They said they did not feel brave at all; it was their only choice because it was the right thing to do. Most of these courageous people said they strongly believed in the importance of ”love thy neighbor as thyself.” They only did what they would want someone else to do for them.
Loving your neighbor in this way requires empathy. We can start in our own families by listening and trying to understand other points of view and understand others’ experiences and feelings. We can also look for opportunities to talk to people with very different experiences and backgrounds, then simply listen to understand. Kindness and friendship are not dependent on agreement.
Most importantly, we must speak up whenever a reference to people is degrading, derogatory or dehumanizing. Valuing all people and standing up for human dignity and respect are critical to unity and peace in our nation.
Debra Coe works as a volunteer on suicide prevention and is a local realtor.