Another wonderful piece from our resident guest writer, Tim, sharing some family history and touching on how being mindful has played a part when encountering and revisiting events. Sit back, read and enjoy.
The names, you know, they can hurt me, hurt you. And that hurt is harder to heal than a broken bone.
At work yesterday I had to listen to a man who declared himself to be 70 years old. He was opining that the UK needed to leave the EU because, in his words, “It is full of East Germans and Jews!”. Because my work is 100% customer service, I chose to listen to his bigotry rather than challenge him on it. In my own time I can challenge folk, but in the firm’s time I work to uphold their interests.
He carried on, “We fought against Germany. Now they are coming in here and taking us over.”
He had almost seemed intelligent until then, but there are two points here. As a 70 year old he would have been born in 1948. That makes it rather hard to have fought in the last war. In the UK National Service, conscription ended on 31st December 1960. As a 12 year old then, it seems he missed that, too! And that’s just the first point. The second, is that they are not coming in here nor are they taking us over.
Now, I’m not East German. My roots are as the son of a refugee from Hitler, one who just escaped in 1939. My father, he fought against the Germans. He, too, was a Jew. My mother is not, so I am not, and nor do I consider myself anything other than English. I have no religion, but with one Austrian parent who was a Jew I found that he hurt me.
I wonder if you have ever seen one of these:
- That big red J, that is from my father’s German reisepass (passport). Being labelled a Jew back then wasn’t as much an insult as a death sentence. I’ve removed the number and his name. We’re not concerned with those things.
- Vertically, by the J, is the handwritten date of issue, 8.II.1939.
- The J on the document, created at the behest of the neutral Swiss, was intended to ensure that all Jews could be recognised easily and returned to Germany for extermination.
My 70 year old customer would almost certainly have applauded the Swiss. I suspect he would have been happily obeying orders too, like a good little bigot. That word, Jew, that could have ensured that you were not reading this piece as I would not have existed and it would not have been written. Makes you think, does that.
Three Years Ago
I was sailing with someone who regaled the boat with his humorous tale about a ‘pair of poofs’ in my home town. He was even older than antisemitic boy above. We will, of course, excuse the way he was brought up. In his day, it was fine to talk about poofs and be derogatory. Historic bias is rinsed clean by the passage of time and is somehow acceptable… No.
I happen to be a card carrying member of the facet of humankind who are homosexual. Some of you reading this may be, too. Others may enjoy their heterosexuality, and others who have different sexualities, may also be a different sex from that which their bodies present. I think all of us will agree that bias is bias is bias. In the way that we know it was a heinous crime to lynch black people in the USA, within our living memory and before, we know that the passage of time has not rinsed that crime away.
I called him out. I allowed him to understand that his words offended those who were homosexual. “Who is offended?” he asked, looking round the boat.
He apologised, and we are friends. Someone else in the boat complained to the organisation which owns it that I called out the bigotry and I was asked to ameliorate my doing so in the future. I refused. It seems that ‘not rocking the boat’ is more important than calling out bigotry. ‘Poofs’ hurt me. It was an epithet I hid from, in fear and trembling as a child, in the same way that Jews were afraid of Hitler.
Two Years Ago
We had unexpected guests at home. He is a bombast, all piss and wind. She is his wife, cut from the same cloth. Can I say, “They suit each other.”?
“We popped into a lovely little tea shop in town,” he said. “Run by a couple of queers. It was very good. Queers are good at catering.” He sneered the italics.
I was very good, and held my peace. He was a guest in my house, though never will be again. He went on his way knowing that ‘queers are good at catering‘, and not knowing how close he had come to experiencing pointed catering implements at close range. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me… Oh yes, they can.
Mindfully, I looked at these events while telling you about them. I know that the words are irrelevant to me. But they are relevant to others, the ones who do not yet know how not to get angry. Mindfully, I remain upset by each incident, though I have forgiven the man in the boat for he has apologised and learned something. I cannot set the incidents themselves aside, however carefully I make the attempt, because they are a symptom of something else, the dehumanisation of groups of people.
However carefully I seek to avoid politics in these pieces I see the once proud nation, the USA, led today by a man who dehumanises refugees, immigrants, non white races, certain religions, who dehumanises other people for his own bizarre ambitions, and I am afraid for us all.
Martin Niemöller was right.
I have written this piece mindfully, in the knowledge that writing it will both upset me and be cathartic to an extent, and I ask you to read it mindfully, and to reach your conclusion about your fellow human beings respectfully. And, having reached it, to act, both mindfully and appropriately, to seek to ensure that at least your own words and attitudes harm no other person, and perhaps to educate someone else to do better themselves.