I was watching a TED talk by Bryan Stevenson
His opening statements made me sit back and breathe deeply.
Bryan Stevenson: It’s interesting, this question of the death penalty. In many ways, we’ve been taught to think that the real question is, do people deserve to die for the crimes they’ve committed? And that’s a very sensible question. But there’s another way of thinking about where we are in our identity. The other way of thinking about it is not, do people deserve to die for the crimes they commit, but do we deserve to kill?
Do we deserve to kill?
Echoes from the bible resound in my ear, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” I have received a lot of flak from people who have derided my pacifist attitude. My husband is a strong proponent of an eye for an eye, which he is quick to point out, is also in the bible. As I stood explaining to my then seven-year-old son to forgive those who bully him and to avoid mean kids, my husband interjected showing him how to land a left hook. As a child with Autism he was greatly disturbed and emotionally scared by his experiences but I have tried my best to make him understand that there are only two kinds of people, good and bad. We empower the good and we pray for the bad to turn good.
I have had a turbulent life, filled with mean girls, cruel women, evil men, scheming friends, manipulative family members, and the racists few. I know too well the perils of trusting a friend only to be betrayed, repercussions of being a guarantee for a loan, helping someone only to be accused of having ulterior motives, being called pathetic and weak for not joining in, and the list of hurts goes on. However, what I’d like to add is that I too have committed the same crimes albeit in different contexts.
In my forty years of life, can I truly say that I haven’t been at some point in my life mean, cruel, evil or schemed and manipulated to get my way? Have I never made a sweeping blanket statement that might have been sexist or racist? When we sit with our girlfriends sipping coffee hearing how their husband/boyfriend cheated on them and remark, “All men are pigs!” Reading about the atrocities against the slaves by the wealthy American cotton barons, I must confess my thoughts were quite racist. When I despised my brother’s girlfriend for taking advantage of him, I shamefully admit many schemes and emotional manipulations. When I hear of a pedophile, human trafficker, or a rapist, I can assure you my desire of vengeance can be downright evil not just cruel or mean.
The point being just because we can justify our wrongs with good intent, does it exempt our actions? If so then why can we not afford that same leverage to criminals that commit crimes due to poverty, drug addiction, etc.? Let me stress strongly that I am talking of the death penalty and not in any way advocating parole or shorter sentences. There are some mentally diseased humans that need to be locked away forever but what I question is the right to take away human life.
When did we as a society think that we could decide who lived and who didn’t? I am all for consequences and incarceration for the guilty but a death penalty for me is a downward spiral in our evolution. I cannot understand how we as a technologically advanced human race, wherein we have learnt to land on planets and study them, fail to appreciate human life. For me the only way forward is together but these cultural silos that we have created have now bifurcated even further into smaller isolated mobs of common goals, view points etc.
It is getting increasingly hard to have a discussion with anyone with a different point of view. All statements are emotional coupled with a myopic view that only they are right, reason and logic has been abandoned, compassion and empathy buried deep in the sands of self-preservation and personal comfort. I have never been more scared of voicing my opinions or of expressing them passionately for fear of being labeled a zealot. The world is getting increasingly corroded with hate and fear.
The words of Thomas Paine ring true today more than they ever did, “To argue with a man who has renounced the use and authority of reason, and whose philosophy consists in holding humanity in contempt, is like administering medicine to the dead, or endeavoring to convert an atheist by scripture. Enjoy, sir, your insensibility of feeling and reflecting. It is the prerogative of animals.”
I am dumbfounded when I discover the need to argue the case of saving human lives, with a history of slavery, genocide, oppression, tsunami, hurricanes, natural disasters and a nuclear bomb, we should know better. In the year 2017 we should not have prejudices based on religion, race, cast, gender, disability, or background, we should not have prejudices period. Before we plot a path to the stars and raise our flags on alien soil let us first nurture tolerance, justice and mercy.
There are a few statements that Bryan Stevenson makes that strike a chord in me that I cannot help but resound.
Our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity.
The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice.
You judge the character of a society, not by how they treat their rich and the powerful and the privileged, but by how they treat the poor, the condemned, the incarcerated.