Robin Pendoley went on the 1995 adventure and remains one of Arete West's clearest spokesmen. After earning a BA in International Development Studies at UCLA, Robin went on to graduate work at the Harvard School of Education. He came to Arete through Theresa Martin, his Terra Linda running coach. Theresa was of Arete '79 and '83. Quite a gift, Theresa. Robin won the county cross country finals convincingly his senior year, placed ninth in the division four state finals in Fresno. His traveling has taken him to Europe, South Africa, Latin America, not by weeks, but months. He currently works in Newburyport, MA at a public Montessori middle school and is developing a program for US high school graduates that will take them around the world for 9 months studying development issues through service learning projects. The essay will reveal his passion for truth and compassion. The essay was appropriately sent to us from an internet cafe in Europe.
Dusk was setting in as we each found our niche in our corner of the grounds of the Hapsburg Palace. It was a meeting already delayed a day, so it would be impossible to allow the soft, fading light, and the warm evening air to deter us from our task.
He stood before us and illustrated the scene of nearly 60 years earlier. Hitler triumphantly returned to a city that had once defeated him, this time aided with tank divisions and a social and political agenda viewed by the 30,000 Viennese who came to welcome him as a source of empowerment. Those voices still rang loudly in our ears, carried by that easy breeze brought by a setting sun. They are voices that cannot be silenced.
We read of Auschwitz. These were our reflections upon the sights, the smells, and the emotions that our visit—only days before—had brought.
Erin McAdams is a kind and caring soul. Really, any of us from that trip can be classified in this way, but Erin stands out in the crowd. Her empathy and compassion gave life to her contributions to discussions and every interaction one could hope to share with her. I´m not exactly sure what I expected her reaction to confronting genocide to be, but it remains the most vivid moment of the trip for me.
"I could have done it. I realized that I hold the potential to bring evil like that into the world." The easiest response would be to dismiss her statement. There is no way that Erin could commit such an act, could so truly believe in her cause and hold so strictly to her righteousness about anything that she would lead a nation and a continent to such horror. I wanted to laugh, not because I found it humorous, but because I feared that there might be truth in her statement. If this could possibly be true of Erin, what does that say about me? What about Jen Ponig or Mr. Taylor? What could this say about humanity?
I taught World History from the present to 1800 last year to 9th graders in Boston. As we worked backward through history, I struggled with how to help the students truly feel connected to and ownership for the products—past and present—of humanity. They spoke of the War in Iraq , the failure of the international community to respond to the Rwandan Genocide, the War in Vietnam and the Holocaust with such righteous indignation. As a teacher and one who wishes to see the world change, this is a heart warming scene. Yet, righteous indignation about the failures of humanity is not difficult to find in this world. This is precisely the sentiment that brought popular support to President Bush and the US Congress, the Hutu militias, Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, and to Adolf Hitler.
The danger of righteous indignation is that it allows us to remove ourselves from the list of those that would commit "inhuman" acts. Since September 11th, 2001 , Osama bin Laden has been referred to as a devil, a snake, and an inhuman mass murderer. While the actions he helped to conceive, plan, and fund were horrific, we cannot make the mistake of referring to them or their perpetrators as inhuman. There were, in fact, humans that made the decision to highjack the planes. The CIA stated at the time of the attacks that there were as many as 3,000 wealthy sponsors of Al Qaeda throughout the world. This suggests that there were as many as 3,000 college educated individuals who financially backed the attacks.
My students and I read the letter that was written by Osama bin Laden that was published on the first anniversary of the attacks. We read oral histories of Hutus who participated in the genocide in Rwanda . We read of the fear of the Cold War and the despair and anger of post-WWI Germany . We sought to understand what moves humans to commit horrendous acts of genocide, war, and violence. We explored the roots of humanity´s greatest evils.
Erin found at Auschwitz and shared with us in Vienna the powerful tool of moving beyond righteous indignation. She challenged herself to move beyond the simplicity of identifying love for the victim and intellectual understanding of the perpetrator. She demonstrated an ability to find love (in the form of empathy) for ALL as members of humanity, whether victim or perpetrator.
The greatest heroes of peace and reconciliation of the past century identified this as the key to truly humanitarian ends to conflict. Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. all echoed Erin´s sentiments. Dr. King spoke regularly of the need to love one´s enemies. The love that he spoke of is a brotherly love, one that is not necessarily accepting of the actions of all humans, but recognizes their capacity to act from love rather than hatred.
Our world is one of great conflict. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the aggression in Israel/Palestine, the class struggles that are ubiquitous in global trade, and the international battles for land, water, natural resources and political power all define humanity today. That warm summer evening in Vienna, Erin spoke to us of the first step toward bringing humanity closer to it´s idealized state: each human must recognize her/his capacity for absolute good and absolute evil.
May we all hear her…