Because I'm Really Into Fun Television
As you might expect, a documentary series about the history of Auschwitz isn't exactly...uplifting. I'm not even sure what prompted me to start watching the series in the first place, as Holocaust informational material really disturbs my "no evil people, just evil acts" philosophy of life and ultimately distresses me. My sister visited Auschwitz on her tour of Europe and didn't really want to talk about it when she returned. I don't know if I could go there. I think the energy of the place would be too much for me.
I can't get my head or my heart around the Holocaust. I can't even begin to fathom the horrors that people lived through, and what made their captors hate so much that they could put others through those horrors. I listen to the survivor interviews, and think, "How do you cope with carrying all that?"
And the thought, "I'm ashamed to be human," has passed through my mind.
Don't Want to be the Same Species As Such Horrible People
It's not the first time I've pondered those things. I've thought them in response to hearing about hate killings of people because of their sexuality, such as Matthew Shepard. I've thought them hearing about acts of racism that people have faced over the years. I've even thought them in work, hearing about abuses that people with disabilities have had to endure from caregivers and supports (both paid and non-paid).
I'd like to believe that people aren't evil. But some days it's hard. And in my work, some days it feels like we're a very, very long way from a society where people with disabilities are respected and regarded as equals.
Some days it gets easy to ask myself, "What's the point? We'll never get there..."
I finished the fifth documentary yesterday, and one of the comments from the panel discussion is what has brought me here. Jerry Fowler, who worked for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. when the documentaries aired, said that from the Museum you can see the Jefferson Memorial. The Declaration of Independence is written on the walls of that memorial: "All men are created equal". Yet at the time the Declaration of Independence was written, Fowler observes, men owned slaves, and would for another century. For another century after that, there was legalized discrimination.
But "All men created equal" was a beautiful sentiment, even it wasn't true when it was written, and it was definitely worth working toward...and still working toward today. It would have been very easy at any given point in those next 200 years of legalized racism, "What does this mean for us, when it's so obviously not true?" However, it's an idea that belongs in a space where everyone can see it and work toward it...even if getting there takes a long, long time.
(These are a paraphrase of Fowler's words...Netflix won't let me rewind this one and I actually had to let the documentary play through again to get to the interview a second time).
Changing the World
He was responding in general to a question about why we still seem reluctant to help countries that are struggling with genocide, even after all the lessons the West learned from its slow response to the Holocaust. I was encouraged by his idea that we need to be heartened by even the slow progress that humanity makes toward the ideal. I like the idea that the ideal *is* working toward, no matter how far away it seems.
On my bad days, when I ask myself why I and other disability advocates bother, I'll try to remember his words and think of just one step that I can take that day to get us a bit closer to the world I'd like to see...even if it's just a note to another disability advocate to say how much I appreciate their work...
Maybe that's the real key to changing the world. One little step at a time.