Charlene Smith
Charlene Smith

Harm of a special kind

The worst evil in the world is not committed by the tyrant, the bigot or the thief; the gravest evil is that performed by those we should be able to trust, a person whose very title demands respect: daddy, mommy, priest, lover, teacher, boss, political leader, spouse.

Hospital wards and institutions are filled with far more people mentally and physically wounded by those they should be able to trust, than by soldiers wounded by an enemy.

In a recent discussion a Jewish man, whose Roman Catholic wife wants him to convert, was asking about some of the harm committed by the Church. A priest asked him to name one, he mentioned the Spanish Inquisition.

The priest laughed it off, “that was hundreds of years ago”. But another queried: “What about those who Catholic priests gave blessings to before Argentine military officers pushed them out of planes, weighted with concrete to drown in the Rio de la Plata during the military dictatorship of the 1980s?” And yet another chimed in: “What about the thousands of cases of priests sexually molesting children?” The priest rose and said, “I am tired, I do not want to be part of this conversation,” and left.

Stories among non-governmental workers for human rights organisations, of bosses whose foul tempers and bullying reduces workers to quivering wrecks are legion. And while some countries in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Africa have human rights laws where abusive bosses can be brought to book, there is no such luxury in most of the countries of the Americas, including the United States, or South-East Asia.

Perhaps the worst abuses come from some in minority groups that have seen members experience discrimination from those in majority groups. Because of this, they become a special case, the implication is that we should be slower to expose and condemn them. If it is a white heterosexual male that is being abusive, well, everyone likes to lash out at a stereotype — but how willing are we to expose the contempt a black lesbian may show toward her staff? How quickly will we assist a white woman being beaten by her black husband who came as a political refugee from a developing nation?

When a gay man beats up his gay lover, do we openly discuss it, or awkwardly try and avoid the subject?

As long as we maintain political correctness, we allow abuse to flourish.

When we don’t talk up about harmful conduct from a minority, we say that the rights of one (singular), are greater than the rights of all.

In South Africa, during the liberation struggle, there was a saying: “An injury to one, is an injury to all” — it was a great rallying cry, until the liberators came into power and proved themselves as venal, corrupt and abusive as those they had replaced. No one expressed the noble sayings anymore.

The narcissists who had used human rights as their cloak were now in power and silence became the new cover for suffering. People are human. It doesn’t matter if they are gay, lesbian, transgendered, an undocumented worker, a refugee, a freedom fighter, an activist for human rights, a person of colour, or not, a priest, a nun, a teacher, a scout master, an employer in a charitable organisation … there will always be those among any group of people who are narcissists, who seek power and glory and will destroy any they perceive as a threat. There will always be the self-aggrandizers, the people who assume credit but never praise — unless it is in a public forum and then their praise is merely another way of self-aggrandizing.

There will always be those among any group that appear to have been victimised — the unemployed, the women beaten by partners, the hungry; who will steal, betray your trust, lie, cheat … does it mean we stop helping those groups? Of course not, why be offended when they reveal themselves as human and flawed? This does not mean, however, that such conduct should be tolerated.

We need to understand that when we make people a “special case” because of the discrimination of others; we perpetuate that discrimination, in a new way. We enable abusive conduct. We slow the progress of justice.

Everyone should be treated with respect, everyone with compassion, because as the Hindu say: Namaste — the God in me, honours the God in you. When I speak to you I am speaking to God. Whatever I do to you, I do to God — and because God is in me too, I do it to myself.