I’m not a sad person, I don’t live with blackout blinds on my windows, and I make it a point not to feel sorry for myself. But, I have made a sort of dark hobby out of reading about the human disasters of the past, the horrors people have perpetrated to one another on massive scales, and often, the more I learn, the less I seem to know. Finding out about another just brings more comparisons from before. History, it seems, is one tragedy after another.
I’ve been reading, on and off, the Gulag Archipelago, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, which is an enormous book about the incomparably larger crimes of the Soviet Government. Himself a victim, Solzhenitsyn, describes in soulful and painful detail how millions of people were tortured and sent to work themselves to death, that is, if they didn’t starve or freeze to death first. The latest chapter I’ve read concerns the show-trial of a regional official that aroused the ire of the Soviet government by violating the spirit of a law. The law concerned the distribution of bread around urban areas. The official found a way to follow the law to the letter and still feed the people enough to survive. He was executed.
This is only example of the cruelty people can do upon one another, just a word on the page of history, along with such immortal names as Treblinka and Dresden, among countless others.
But knowing what happened doesn’t disable my optimism, it arms me with knowledge. I can’t help but feeling hopeful, like the fact that people survived speaks to the more resilient parts of humanity. The lesson that seems easy to draw is that change is impossible, but I believe there’s different piece of wisdom to discover: the world needs change. Luckily, change can always counted on, but it takes communal effort to make it positive. Slavery is a crime the world over only through the dedication of brave individuals. It’s even becoming harder to hide human suffering from the eyes of the world, and the world is becoming more and more inclined to look.
But the world doesn’t change on it’s own, and those eyes need to be connected to willing hands. It takes people fighting for a better future. It’s too easy to get discouraged watching what can be excused an inevitable, just a history doing a repeat as it marches on. Bad things do happen, and they have been happening for as long as there has been a humanity, but to give up because of that is little less than endorsing those very things. I believe changing for the better isn’t easy, but learning the darker shades of history makes me believe that it is always worth it. And after all, it’s like the GI Joe cartoon I watched as a kid once taught me “Knowledge is half the battle.”
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.