“Herein lies the tragedy of the age: not that men are poor—all men know something of poverty; not that men are wicked—who is good? Not that men are ignorant—what is truth? Nay, but that men know so little of men.”
~ W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghart Du Bois (1868-1963) was an African-American scholar, author, socialist and political activist. He was the very first person of colour to earn a doctorate degree in the United States. Du Bois was a founding father of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in 1909. He opposed racism and bigotry in all of its ugly forms and believed that education was the key to achieving the goals of full rights and liberties under the law.
When I first considered these words, I re-read them quickly thinking that I had not understood. But of course poverty, wickedness and ignorance are tragic, are they not? According to Du Bois, the real misfortune is that we know so little of each other. These words were taken from his book The Souls of Black Folk published in 1903. Standards of education have risen substantially in the century since he wrote this book. But is the conclusion he draws any less valid? Not one bit.
I have an Arts educational background, and I taught high school History for thirty-five years. I do not claim to have any expertise in the fields of psychology or sociology, but I have made it a point to study the way people behave. Everything I learned from courses, my outside reading, and observations over the years led me to a conclusion that validates Du Bois’ opinion. It is my belief that despite the tremendous advancements in knowledge and technology, human nature has not changed at all since humanity first appeared.
History and my life experiences have shown me that people fear and react negatively to anyone who is different. The differences may manifest in facial features, skin tone, language, or religion. None of these traits is what make us human. These differences are not significant, and we must remember that we all bleed red. We are driven by the exact same needs.
Humans are spiritual beings – in that we are the same. Many choose to express and cultivate that spirituality by way of formal religions. These religions are not drastically different, yet down through the centuries, we have butchered each other in the names of our Gods. We don’t know each other. We don’t recognise the sameness in each other. We don’t accept our oneness.
As humans, we need to be free, and we need to be secure. We need to raise our families so the species will survive. We need to give our children and grandchildren the best opportunities to live and prosper that we can. However, some of us are not willing to extend the right to satisfy these needs to people born in other lands who profess a religion different from our own.
Indeed, we also need to be safe in our own homes, our cities and in our country. Why does our need supersede the same need among those who flee from famine, repression, and from civil war? We justify our inhumanity to man by claiming these refugees on the other side of the world are a threat to our security. We deny people of colour the dignity and respect that we demand ourselves.
William Edward Burghart Du Bois was correct in 1903, and his conclusion about the real human tragedy is still valid in 2017. I need to spend the balance of my life seeking to understand, to really know my fellow human beings and to be seen modelling that behaviour. Otherwise, these 600 words are for nought.