We are bombarded daily by the news and images of violence and mayhem. The bombing of Yemen and Aleppo, the horrific war in Iraq and Syria, conflicts in South Sudan in Africa and with the deaths and suffering of migrants and refugees fleeing violence and war. It gives us urgent reason to feel the human suffering and to think and act about our humanity. What are we as a species that we do violence to each other?
As a species, are we more animal than human, more violent than peaceful? Has our intelligence brought greater, more efficient means of killing and exterminating others than building equality and peace, ending hunger and poverty of hundreds of millions of people? It seems we, humans with the big brains and intelligence, are damaging ourselves and our planet beyond repair and recovery.
Are we not like a shipload of humans fighting among ourselves and causing the ship to sink? The aggressors tend to demonize their opponents, to take away their self-worth and self-respect and deprive them of their dignity. They do so to exert superiority over them. Racial hatred is the result and it is on the rise in the world today.
The human has evolved as the most aggressive and destructive species on the planet to the extent of one more powerful group in a community or country striving hell-bent on domination or even exterminating others they dislike and whom they consider to be inferior, different or dangerous to them. When two or more groups feel threatened by others, they arm themselves and are ready for aggression or self-defence, violence, war and retaliation.
Doing nothing is to forfeit our rights and dignity. We are in this planet together and we must work together to live in peace and harmony with equality and justice. Dialogue, discussion, talking over differences, getting to know and understand those who are different from us in race, religion and economic status can bridge the gap.
It is when we engage and look each other face to face and listen to each other that there is a chance for peaceful negotiation and understanding can be reached.
Violence in a family, a community or between nations can begin when some members are considered to have less rights and dignity than another. One group will dominate another and deprive them of freedoms and rights. Motives differ, some want to exploit and grow rich on the backs of the poor; others want to take over the nation’s natural wealth. It is the greed and will to have power over others that drive the violence in our world.
Peaceful community life and co-existence is possible when the universal human rights of all members of a group are recognised, cherished and protected from those who would deny them. That’s why awareness of these rights and dignity is essential to defend and promote them and that is to promote peaceful living together in cooperation and mutual respect. The most successful nations are built on the respect and adherence to the rule of law that establishes and defends human rights and dignity.
These rights declared by the United Nations in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and specified in various international conventions are the bedrock upon which people of the world are supposed to live their lives of dignity and harmony, with justice and equality.
They are also at the heart of Catholic Social Teaching, which traces as its source of wisdom and enlightenment the faith and belief in a loving greater power that exists within and beyond the physical universe and imbues every creature with value and worth. It is a belief that every human being comes to life no matter their condition, status, race, religion, disability, rich or poor. They have equal value and rights that are established in the image and likeness of universal goodness and love.
This is inherent self-value and worth of every individual and the recognition that they have equal human dignity that cannot and should not be taken away from them. We ought to recognise and respect in all others that which we hope to be recognised and respected in us, too. At the very least, such universal rights, based on the dignity of each human person, are a shared strategy for survival and success. At its highest level, it brings about a well-ordered peaceful and prosperous, united community, where the dignity of each is respected and protected.
It has to be this recognition of the dignity, integrity and empowerment with equality of the human person that has to be highly valued above all else. It is not the strongest that ought to survive at the expense of the weaker, but respect for human dignity of each person is what will bring about just, peaceful communities and nations.
(Fr. Shay Cullen)