Monday, March 16, 2009

Lighting a Candle

My friends, please allow me to introduce you to a blogger named John Green. John is a New York Times bestselling "Young Adult" author and another fighter in the effort to convince people to view each other with an empathy borne of seeing thier complexity. He is enormously popular and never fails to make the effort to guide his (mostly young) fan-base to involve themselves in charity and projects to reduce the amount that the world sucks rather than just sitting in their rooms complaining about it. Awhile back, I posted some musings about setting aside our preconceived notions about other -people and becoming aware of the self-imposed obstacles that keep us from seeing others as being as whole and complete as we are. I suggested that only by imagining others as whole and complete beings of a kind with ourselves despite being wholly independent and ultimately unpredictable, we could find a deeper empathy. (And from that deeper look into the soul of others, our writing and characterization could not help but get better thereby.) I was accused of being "too PC". Which is fine. There are certainly enough people in the world trying too hard to be correct at the expense of reality. I would like to emphasize that I'm actively trying to avoid that. Which brings me to why I was standing in my library with a lit candle last night. 15 years ago next month, 1,000,000 people were murdered in a small African country in a matter of 100 days. They were butchered for being from the wrong tribe. Because one tribe could not imagine the other as being as fully-human as they saw themselves. Imagine that. A city roughly twice the population of Seattle being murdered in a little over three months. For no better reason than the fact that they were Seattlites. You cannot get much closer to defining evil than a total lack of empathy for one's fellow man to the point where you no longer see them as worthy of life.
“There is no denying that Hitler and Stalin are alive today... they are waiting for us to forget, because this is what makes possible the resurrection of these two monsters.” -Simon Weisenthal
Weisenthal is right. We dare not forget. And the people of Rwanda feel forgotten. They feel that the world outside their country has failed to remember the lessons of the tragedy that erupted just fifteen years ago. They too feel that Weisenthal is correct. We dare not forget. Fifteen years on, Rwanda is a different country. A country that survived the worst imagineable atrocities and has begun to reconcile. And now it is our turn to tell them that we have not forgotten. To remind them that they are not alone. Hence the candle. Last night, John Green posted this video from his hotel room in Amsterdam (where he is on a book tour) to publicize the website
The YouTube community, in conjunction with John & his brother Hank, along with the (of all people) Harry Potter Alliance are calling for 30-second videos of people holding candles and telling the people of Rwanda that we have not forgotten what happened. That we will not forget. An online candlight vigil for the victims of 15 years ago. This is an experiment of sorts. A chance for the world community to remind itself that the triumph of evil is imminent when good people do nothing. Remind ourselves of the horrible cost of turning up the music so we won't have to listen when the woman next door is being beaten. In light of our nation's tepid reaction to the crisis in Darfur, that's a tough sell, and it's going to take more than a candle to get it done. Thirty seconds of video tape, a quarter inch of candle, and a match. The videos will be posted on the website and some will be played in Rwanda during a ceremony to commemorate the tragedy. Reminders that the world noticed. That the world has not forgotten.
One candle won't change anything. One hundred won't either. One thousand is getting there. The amazing thing about a candle is that it can light another without diminishing itself. And that one can light another, and another. Until the whole world is alight without any one candle being dimmed by the simple act of lighting its neighbor.

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).