“Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is in an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.”
~ Frederick Douglass
Frederick Douglass (1818-1895) was born into slavery in Maryland. After his escape, he became a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer and statesman. Douglass was committed to the cause of equality for all peoples, no matter their race or gender. He believed in the liberal values of the American Constitution and was said to have made a career of disturbing the American conscience.
Throughout my life, I have been a student of history and have been blessed with the realization that although there are very real cultural differences among humans, we are also remarkably similar. Significantly, we share basic needs and drives that we identify as belonging to our human nature. Besides our physical needs, we share emotional/psychological needs as well. Liberal-minded nations have enshrined many of these needs within their constitutions as human rights. A nation’s constitution is the bedrock of their society’s organizational infrastructure – their most basic law.
Frederick Douglass has identified several significant human needs in this quote and warns all of us that when a particular group in society feels denied, there will be trouble. In his day, there were slave uprisings and many slaveholding families didn’t feel safe. Douglass’ lifetime efforts helped bring about the end of slavery in the United States, but that achievement did not address his other concerns.
It is disappointing, but not surprising, that there is still discrimination and injustice apparent in our modern democratic societies. People often lament about the fact that we don’t learn from the mistakes of the past. This is true to a degree as there are so many people who don’t care for History and make no effort to learn about it. My students often challenged me about being forced to take the 20th Century Canadian History course in tenth grade. But it isn’t just ignorance of the past that allows modern injustices, discrimination and poverty to exist in wealthy first world countries. We lack the will to right the wrongs.
These words are chilling: “… neither persons nor property will be safe.” In recent years, families and entire communities have experienced the trauma of senseless killings and massacres at the hands of gunmen. Many people arm themselves with handguns and worse because they don’t feel safe. In the face of that fear and a lack of trust in the ability of the community to provide security, they buy more guns.
Look at what we’re doing. We’re attempting to protect ourselves from the embittered disenfranchised instead of treating the root of the problem. Douglass has identified, one hundred and fifty years ago, what the problems are that precipitate violence and crime. As a society, are we investing in our most important natural resource – our people? There are some social programs to help the poor, and there are groups lobbying various levels of government to tackle the social problems that grow like a cancer. I say that it is not nearly enough. Not by a long shot.
It gets worse. International terrorist organizations like ISIS and Al Qaeda are using the Internet and social media to recruit and radicalize new followers from among the disenfranchised groups in first world countries. These countries, like the NATO allies, have banded together to declare war on terrorist organizations at tremendous financial and human cost. The solution to the threat they pose is simple… kill them.
I believe that human beings, no matter their national or political stripes, are better than this. More violence is not going to give us peace and security – within our own towns and cities or on the international stage. I am not the Prime Minister of Canada, nor do I have any influence over policy makers in Ottawa. But I do have tremendous power within myself. I must live my life in witness to the rights and liberties of all human beings. I must sow peace in my dealings with everyone I meet. I must live respectfully, courteously, generously and be willing to lend an ear when needed. If we sow the seeds of peace in our own little corner of the universe, it will make a difference.