Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Speaking out

I was wandering around Boston when I came across the following poem on the Holocaust Memorial:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

Then they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.

This poem, which is by Pastor Martin Niemoller about the inactivity of the German intellectuals to speak up after the Nazi rise to power, made me think about the importance of standing up for people who are not in a position to speak out for themselves. Big picture-wise, the most relevant example these days is immigrants, illegal and otherwise (non-U.S. citizens), who do not have the full rights and freedoms of citizens and have been treated increasingly worse in the last few years. On a smaller scale, there are many opportunities day-to-day to speak out: from the stories I hear many workplaces are rife with subtle (and not-so-subtle) racism, sexism, and general inappropriateness. The perpetrators may not mean harm, but as we learned in sensitivity training at Google, the intent does not matter--only the oucome. (Also, I personally don't find racism or sexism very funny. Do you?) We should be aware and conscientous that we are not going along with things just because we are comfortable members of a majority.

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