Even as the New Year has come and gone, change, often avoided or dismissed, becomes an overwhelming motivator. When we devise annual resolutions, too often our thoughts turn inward rather than outward. Instead of concerning ourselves with the state of the world, we focus on how we have gained a world of weight, researching new fangled diets and fitness routines, all designed to re-sculpt our bodies. During these festive days, pernicious problems abound which should vex our minds -- both globally and locally, from sexual abuse of minors and cyberbullying to hate crimes and continuing genocides. While these abhorrent events have the capacity to destroy and have, in fact, ended countless lives, all too frequently we turn a blind eye.
In this year alone, we bore witness to a series of man-made, catastrophic events in many corners of the world. Witness:
- Bloodshed has continued unabated in the Darfur region of Western Sudan, in the Congo (where a woman is raped every minute), Somalia and, of late, organized sectarian killing in Homs, Syria;
- Based on the latest available statistics, 6,624 hate crimes occurred in the United States in 2010, motivated by race, religion, disability and sexual orientation. This past week, eight U.S. soldiers were charged in the death of a fellow GI, Pvt. Danny Chen, a Chinese-American who allegedly shot himself in Afghanistan as a result of ethnic taunts and assaults;
- At Florida's A&M University, student Robert Champion died after a brutal beating as part of a hazing related to the school's marching band. No one came forward;
- In September, Jamey Rodemeyer, a Buffalo junior high student committed suicide after persistent bullying at school, on the heels of Rutgers freshman Tyler Clementi plunging to his death off the George Washington Bridge after a cyber video post;
- 13-year-olds Seth Walsh and Asher Brown hung and shot themselves after brutal harassment by classmates for their sexual orientation; and
- In recent months, numerous cases of sexual molestation have been alleged against coaches at Penn State and Syracuse Universities, with no contemporaneous effort made to quell the horrific physical and emotional toll on these minors.
Each day we have the ability to transform lives, to speak out against injustice, to be -- as first coined by National Security Council member Samantha Power -- "upstanders" for positive change. Why do we remain silent?
Speaking Out, Not Turning a Blind Eye: A Worthy New Year's Resolution
If we dared to do what was right, imagine what we might accomplish. What if we educated ourselves better about the consequences of bullying, bigotry and failing to act?
Consider the actions of the following organizations and individuals, who took decisive, life-altering steps:
- Chapters of STAND, the student-led division of the United to End Genocide group, continue to flourish domestically;
- Will Work for Food conducts local community projects, while combating child malnutrition in Darfur;
- The "Power of One" campaign of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and the Committee on Conscience of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum seek to convert the universal lessons of hatred and bigotry into action;
- The "It Gets Better Project," started in 2010 by syndicated columnist Dan Savage, provides LGBT teens with resources, allies and encouraging videos to remind them they are not alone;
- The National Bullying Prevention Center in Minnesota, recipient of the FBI Director's 2012 Community Leadership Award, performs important outreach work; and
- Teen sisters Emily and Sarah Buder organized a letter-writing campaign in California for bullied student Olivia Gardner after reading about her story, culminating in a book.
Every day, whether it is bullying on the sports field or the Internet, inappropriate behavior in the locker room or workplace, each of us witness conduct and atrocities which cry out for action.
Dr. Joachim Prinz, the Chief Rabbi of Berlin during the Holocaust, in words that ring as true today as when they were uttered preceding Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech, proclaimed:
"The most important thing that I learned ... was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence."
For this New Year's resolution, educate yourself, speak up against bullying, violence and the plight of others. Transform that seasonal desire for change into positive action for the greater good.
Evie Salomon is an Ernie Pyle Scholar at Indiana University's Honors School of Journalism. Richard Salomon, her father, is the CEO of a management consulting firm and a member of the Executive Committee of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. The views expressed are their own.