In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl (writing at a time when “man” meant “a person”) tells us, “There are two races of men in the world, but only these two – the ‘race’ of decent men and the ‘race’ of indecent men. … No group consists entirely of decent or indecent people.”
Essentially, to try to categorize people as good or bad based on their nationality, ethnicity, religion, gender or any other classification is absolutely futile.
In his years in Nazi concentration camps, Frankl found guards who had compassion for prisoners and prisoners who were very cruel.
Frankl goes even further in his analysis of humanity when he points out that within each of us is “a mixture of good and evil.” We all struggle to do good and none of us is perfect.
When we take this perspective of humanity, it’s much easier to see beyond the labels and much easier to look upon our neighbours with compassion.
One would hope that we’ve grown beyond narrow viewpoints and critical biases. We should similarly hope we’ve learned to listen to our neighbours. If we have, then we’re aware of the truths that Frankl put forward in the late 1940s.
In today’s world of Internet and social media, we often live with the impression that we’re informed on a vast array of topics from multiple perspectives.
In fact, the way social media algorithms and our news feeds work is that we tend to get more of what we search for. We get more of what we click on. We end up in what black artist and activist Theo E.J. Wilson refers to as “digital echo chambers.” We share ideas with like-minded people, often reinforcing our prejudices, without even realizing it.
It can be very difficult to emerge from these virtual bubbles. Wilson did it by creating a new online character to try to understand the perspective of white supremacists. What he discovered astounded him.
He not only found the writings and perspectives of leaders of the racist extreme right, theories that are easily debunked, he found ordinary men with families. He found people who felt they were condemned for being who they are, white and male, something that they couldn’t control. In this sense, as a black male in America, he found he had a surprising empathy for his white brothers.
While nothing justifies the violence of the extreme right, it’s easy to understand that it doesn’t feel good to be judged and categorized, no matter who we are.
As an educator, it’s vital that I teach my students not only the truths of our history, as uncomfortable as they may be, but that I give them the tools to examine the world today from an informed perspective. When we see information demonstrating that there’s a problem in some aspect of society, for example, we need to be able to ask the necessary questions to understand why the situation exists and to come up with solutions that actually work.
In doing so, we need to keep in mind Frankl’s valuable lessons, especially when we find ourselves caught in our digital echo chambers. There are good and bad people in any group. There’s also good and bad in each of us.
Given this awareness, we can move forward with understanding and compassion for one another. We can observe without judgment, and find solutions to our problems that are beneficial for every individual, no matter our gender, what we look like or where we live.
Troy Media columnist Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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