Tuesday, October 30, 2007


The following story is long, but worth the read.

For me it not only sheds light on understanding the root of Genocide, but more importantly touches on indifference people have towards fellow humans on every level.

For those of you out there in the civilized world who are waiting for your calling to do the right thing by your fellow human, read this story and than act accordingly.

As the story states, care deeply, share generously and help willingly.


Ottawa Citizen, Canada
Oct 28 2007
Final Edition

BYLINE: Louisa Taylor, The Ottawa Citizen


LENGTH: 1521 words

Parents have turned to Barbara Coloroso for thoughtful and caring advice on raising children since the publication of her first book, Kids Are Worth It, in 1994. Since then she has written about understanding and preventing bullying, and later nurturing ethics in children. In her latest venture, Extraordinary Evil: A Brief History of Genocide, Coloroso explores the roots of genocide. Examining three genocides of the 20th century -- of the Armenians by the Young Turks, the Jews in the Holocaust and the Tutsis in Rwanda -- Coloroso draws a line from the bully in the schoolyard to the killer with a machete.

Coloroso will be Ottawa on Nov. 5 as the keynote speaker for Holocaust Education Week.

You're known as a trusted source of parenting advice, beginning with Kids Are Worth It and later your work on bullying. You've said you were surprised when your editor suggested you write a book on genocide, so surprised in fact that you dropped your glass.

I was just stunned -- we were celebrating this other book (Just Because It's Not Wrong Doesn't Make It Right, on ethics) and it was the last one I was ever going to write. I needed a long break. I don't like to write, it's not a fun thing for me. Speaking is what I love to do.

But I've studied genocide since the late '70s. It has been my own personal interest. If you go back to Kids Are Worth It you'll see quotes from Viktor Frankl and Primo Levi -- but it was never a public thing.

I walked the rabbit-proof fence in Australia, I went to death camps in Europe. And when I was working in Rwanda, my editor asked what I was doing there, and I told her I was working with orphans from the genocide.

Why did you go to Rwanda?

I asked Stephen Lewis if there was anything I could ever do for him and he said 'Go to Rwanda.' He put me in touch with a group in Toronto called Hope for Rwanda ... so I travelled with them and they introduced me to a group of orphans and then to the Tumerere Foundation. They work with child-headed households and orphans.

A professor asked if I would come and talk to the new teachers in Butare, which was then the University of Rwanda's education school. A large number of the Hutu staff there killed the Tutsi staff and a large number of the students were complicit in the deaths of their Tutsi classmates. He wanted me to talk about schoolyard bullying, on a campus where people slaughtered one another.

All I had with me was the little cartoon bully circle from the bully book, and I was embarrassed when I handed it out. Here was a bunch of survivors from the genocide who were going to be teachers, and there were Hutus in the group as well. It was an uneasy peace.

I handed it out, apologized and said "Let's start with how it's a short walk from bullying to genocide."

I didn't get very far before the survivors started to list on the chart where the UN fit, where Romeo Dallaire fit, where Oxfam fit, where their neighbours fit, where church leaders fit. It made sense to them.

I was struggling with the ethics book at the time and that lecture was an "aha" moment about three virulent agents -- hating, hoarding and harming. If we can look at the antidotes, then perhaps we will have a foundation for ethics, an ethic rooted in deep caring, where you teach kids to care deeply, share generously and help willingly, instead of harming other people with lying and cheating and stealing.

If you're raising children who are more willing to help one another because it's the right thing to do, then I think you are raising an ethical child who will stand up for values and against injustice and who will do the right thing when the burden is heavy, when that girl asks all the other girls not to sit by the new girl.

You say it's a short walk from bullying to genocide. Do you mean bullies grow up to be perpetrators of genocide, or genocide is the same forces at work, with deadly consequences?

It can be both, but it's more often the latter than the former.

Although, bullies tend to be leaders. In order to be a bully you have to have leadership skills. The sad things is, look at Hitler -- he was a bullied bully. So was Stalin. We ought to be tuned in to angry people who treat other people with contempt. So it's possible for a leader to be a bully, but more possible is the climate and culture of mean that is created in a political environment. It's a system of behaviour that's learned from childhood -- you have to be taught to have contempt for somebody. You have to learn that somebody is less than you, that somebody can be put outside your circle of moral concern.

... When I was in Rwanda, somebody said it doesn't start in school, and one survivor raised her hand. She was shaking and she said "Yes it does. When I was in Grade 2, the teacher told all the snakes to stand up and move to the other side of the room, and we did it, because we knew we were snakes." And kids called them cockroaches and snakes on the playground.

It was very easy then to get a political party with hate radio, and for people to become very fearful of them. Hitler said "the Jews are going to take over the world." The hate radio of the Hutus said the Tutsis are going to come and kill you. And what is it that the Christian right here says about gays? They're going to make your children gay and take over our schools and destroy marriage. It's the same fear-mongering.

You focus on three genocides that fit the United Nations definition of genocide, but there is much disagreement about other events, such as the famine in the Ukraine, that don't meet that definition.

Some people say the definition needs to be narrowed, some say it needs to be expanded. I was at a conference recently, where genocide scholars were ripping into each other -- you're making it too general, everything's a genocide -- you're making it too specific, the Ukrainian famine ought to be included.

I go back to bullying, and then I have to add on top of it where it is a political group or a party in power that has decided one group, for whatever reason, needs to be destroyed. We're looking in the Congo right now at the genocide of women. We've never made the gender leap in genocide. Women are being so horribly butchered in the rapes that are being committed, butchered to eliminate women. We have to take stock of that.

The definition of bullying has come under attack in some quarters, because some people think all bullying is conflict. The majority of anti-bullying programs have as their foundation conflict resolution.

Conflict is normal, natural and necessary -- it's two of us fighting over something.

Genocide is one-sided -- I'm out to get you and you didn't have to do anything for me to have contempt for you. We can build up fears and say you're going to take over our schools, you're dirty, filthy, you're a snake, but the reality is you're a human being. Once I make you an "It," I can do anything to you.

The scary thing is when it's in our schools, we can work on it, when it's in our community we can work on it, but when it's an entire government that shuts itself off from the rest of the world, the international community has to be gutsy enough to step in and not ask permission.

We say never again, then it happens again.

And again and again. We don't have the will to stop it. We have our self-interest at stake. Look at this genocide resolution (proposing that the U.S. Congress acknowledge the Armenian genocide). We're worried right now about what the Turks will do to us if we even acknowledge a genocide. So if we stepped in some place to stop a genocide, oh my goodness, we might lose our oil! Human beings should be at the centre of our choices, not "What's in it for me?"

What reaction have genocide scholars had to your book?

Mixed. From the survivors, which means a lot more to me than any scholar, I get overwhelming support and thank you. I'll take that.

I'm not a genocide scholar and never pretend to be.

What will you be talking about in Ottawa?

I'll be drawing the connection between bullying and genocide.

What's next for you?

My next book is on the power of good -- immersing myself in the people who are witnesses and resisters and defenders. I find it hard to believe the resilience of people who have been so horribly hurt, because even listening to their stories and being immersed in it took a toll on me.

But I met some Hutu children who had rescued a Tutsi family without their parents knowing because their parents were off looting during the day.

I talked to a man who had rescued people during the Holocaust when he was 17, and didn't know the people he was rescuing. When asked why he did it, he shrugged his shoulders and said "That's how we were raised." I keep hearing that comment.

On the bully circle, that's the people on the very top, the antithesis of the bully. Why do they do what they do? I want to find out what kind of environment we can create to make that more the norm than not.

I'm looking forward to it, because I don't know the answer.

Coloroso will be in Ottawa on Nov. 5 at Sir Robert Borden High School at 7 p.m. Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students and must be reserved by calling (613) 798-4696 ext. 236.

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