What can we do in the face of people’s inhumanity toward each other?
Dear Beach Community:
As I watch conflicts around the globe, I often hesitate to make public comments, not sure that I have anything to add to readily available news coverage. Today, however, I’ve been wondering what lessons we, as a university community, can derive from the apparent willingness of humans to wage organized murder toward each other.
While the current horrific aggression happening in Ukraine has our full attention right now, my lifetime has been filled with international conflicts and, more recently (in my admittedly limited awareness), domestic terrorism. We continue to see dictator-caused wars and genocides along with relentless oppressions of whole populations depriving people of basic human rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Close to home, I see a growing acceptance that differences in religion, political ideologies, race, and ethnicity can be (and maybe should be) addressed with violence. The January 6th insurrection is a sad example of individuals deciding their political differences justified their actions.
What can our university do in the face of people’s inhumanity toward each other and apparent growing justifications for self-righteous violence toward each other? Can we be a force for peace? Can we influence others (and ourselves) to use our words and not our guns? Can we convince our fellow humans that democracy requires compromises; that it means taking turns in power; and that it is the best form of government we know? Is there a way for us to reinforce the social convention that each of us is called to love others as we love ourselves?
A commitment to “be the change we want to see” is noble and needed but seems insufficient. What else? The courageous Ukrainian President Zelensky just called for “citizens of the world” to come and fight for Ukrainian democracy. His insight that democracy is worth fighting for stands to me as a lesson for all of us to consider.
Perhaps after over 240 years of an evolving and admittedly imperfect democracy, we have taken its protections for granted. Perhaps some of us have begun to flirt with the seductive idea that democracy is inconvenient and slow, and that authoritarianism is a better way. Humans have often succumbed to the certainty of following a “strong man,” a state religion, or the comfort of establishing a “master race.” Others of us may have just grown apathetic and no longer vote, work for community good, or raise our voices in the face of injustices. Both stances are dangerous and must be labeled as threats to democracy.
If we continue to allow others to dismantle democracy by, for example, suppressing voting rights, banning books or areas of inquiry, and excusing violence we will lose our democratic opportunities not in a shooting war, but rather in a slow erosion of personal liberties and agency.
At the very least, let’s keep our voices raised in the service of forming a more perfect union, teach by word and example both a profound respect for differences and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts, and resist the national models of incivility and violence that surround us. Let’s all stand, today, with valiant Ukrainians and fight for equity and freedom like our own democracy depended on it.
Jane Close Conoley, Ph.D.
The City of Long Beach and CSULB have partnered to raise awareness of specific needs of Ukrainian students. There is an existing fund on campus, Student Emergency Fund: Food and Housing, that supports programs for both our domestic and international students’ well-being, including food and housing support, and counseling programs for our students who need someone to talk with during this challenging time. Gifts supporting this fund may be made online