Why We Must Risk Getting Upset

Recently a friend who runs an animal shelter was venting about the people she encounters who refuse to listen when she talks about man's inhumanity to our four-legged friends.

"They say it upsets them too much to hear about cruelty to animals," she fumed, "as if they're so much more sensitive than I am."

She went on to say that if these delicate people were really so upset by animal suffering, they would do something to stop it, as she does.

I've heard the same from dedicated souls who devote their lives to battling child abuse, domestic violence, and the trafficking of vulnerable people into sex slavery.

Many of us would prefer to avert our eyes, knowing the scale of the problem will disturb and haunt us. Nevertheless, a few noble people are motivated to channel their reaction into something positive, and to take steps to right the wrong that has upset them so profoundly.

Perhaps, when the majority wish to block out the brutal reality of life, they are actually trying to reject the truth about human nature: that bad co-exists with good in all of us.

Recently, when Deepak Chopra considered the ongoing genocide in Sudan on his radio show, he and I discussed the dark side of humanity. Dr Chopra made the point that the Holocaust was the brainchild of the most educated nation in the world at the time, Germany. After killing Jews all day, people who go home and listen to Beethoven.

Yet, we all have friends who volunteer, "I'm a good person." It might be more realistic to recognize that we all have the capacity to be both good and evil, and what makes us human is the constant struggle to make sure that good prevails in our actions, as well as our words. Without the valleys, the mountains would not exist.

If there is one thing that Africa teaches you it is that for every act of brutality in war, there is a corresponding act of bravery and generosity. I never cease to be amazed by how people can be noble and selfless, often putting themselves in peril to help complete strangers.

Africa is littered with unrecognized heroes like Robert, the Rwandan genocide orphan I know who took in several younger orphans after the war. He sacrificed his own chance to go to school so he could earn enough to educate the orphans for whom he cares. In his case, my charity found a generous donor to sponsor him, and he is now at college. But there are thousands of young men and women like him in Rwanda, leading so-called child-headed households. They do so without self-pity, and they deserve a helping hand.

Another hero is Patricia, who witnessed her husband and children being killed during the Rwandan genocide. She was gang raped and consequently is HIV+. Although she lives in a simple hut and struggles even to feed herself, she took in several little orphans after the war and has looked after them since. When asked why she did this, adding immeasurably to her own difficulties, she told me simply, "It was the right thing to do."

Sometimes when I give a talk about the parts Africa where genocide has occurred, people react by saying that the perpetrators must have been inhuman. Sadly, it is all too human to suddenly kill the neighbor to whom you have chatted over the garden fence for years if not decades. Skilful politicians manipulate their citizens to feel both hatred and fear toward specific groups, and they do so to further their own aims. It happens again and again, most recently in Bosnia and Darfur.

Sadly, too many people go along with the herd, believing the propaganda and lies they are fed, instead of thinking for themselves. They are also coerced into evil behavior, fearing the consequences if they disobey, or wishing to be part of the gang. We need to have the honesty to admit this occurs in our own society in less extreme ways. It is, alas, part of human nature.

At the same time, if we fail to recognize genocide for what it is, whether it is on our doorstep or far away, then we don't deserve to call ourselves human. Like cancer, the longer we avoid it, the worse it gets.

Hiding from unpleasantness diminishes us and eventually isolates us from feeling anything but the numbness of the highly medicated. Opening ourselves to the world in all its beauty and horror may mean getting rather more engaged, and even upset occasionally, but in the words of a wise friend of mine, "The more you know, the more you have to know; the more you can't turn away."

Rebecca Tinsley's novel, "When the Stars Fall to Earth," is published by LandMarc and is available on www.Amazon.com www.RebeccaTinsley.com