Years ago, I memorized a short poem embodying the principles that I endeavor to preserve and promote. I learned it from my father and had the honor of repeating it during his eulogy in the hearing of my own children. The poem reminds all to:
“Mind the old if you are young;
Help the weak if you are strong;
Keep a guard upon your tongue;
Own your fault if you are wrong!”
Genocide prevention and justice are all about standing up for the weak and asserting the rights – the human rights—of those too weak to fight against tyranny, too afraid to stand against intimidation and too indifferent to speak out against injustice.
The silence of secrecy is needed for tyranny to prevail and for evil to triumph. Our call to stand for justice and against tyranny may come in ways we never expected or imagined. But we have a sacred duty and a responsibility to stand for our brother. It is everybody’s business because injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere! Abusers of power and perpetrators of evil come to take away their victims one by one. And sooner or later, they will come for us. If we keep silent at the victimization of the feeble and at the attack on principle, there will be only the weak, timid and unprincipled ones left—and we know that they will not stand and speak or oppose evil in our personal hour of need!
Silence, indifference and acquiescence to wrong is what enables and emboldens perpetrators of abuse and creates a shield of impunity for the worst acts of inhumanity –the evil that this institution is supposed to confront and combat.
Courage is the greatest virtue because it allows us to consistently practice the other virtues. Those who become captives of their peers do not mature morally. They do not develop the courage to stand against the pressures to do wrong. They do not inculcate principle as a guide for their actions but rather bow to the convenient, the easy, the popular, the error of the crowd and the violence of the mob!
The tyrannical silence, the callous indifference and the approving presence of acquiescent spectators turned the thousand hills of Rwanda into macabre fields of mass murder in 1994. Human dignity now cries out for the courageous and the principled to stand for justice everywhere.
Those in the robed professions, priests, judges and professors, stand the principles of truth, justice and wisdom. Salvaging the imperfect and restoring the unworthy is the story of human kind. To err and to forgive is an unending circle dependent on elevating the flawed creature to the possibilities that are preserved in principles within his grasp. However, this is the sacred duty and divine calling of anyone in a position of influence.
We have the privilege of being principled and of leaving a legacy of right actions to those who are watching us and who so desperately need encouragement to do the right thing.
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