Thirty-six years ago, my parents fled the Soviet Union. Unlike their "comrades", they dared to think differently: they dared to dream of a life that they could barely imagine possible. They dared to dream despite the dangers of doing so. They dreamed of a life where people didn't say one thing to your face while meaning another; a life where they could be free to listen to whichever radio station they wanted to without fear of being reported and disappearing forever; a life in which they would have the freedom to discuss religious text without hiding; a life in which they were not crammed 10 people to a single room flat because that was the amount of space they "needed" and this was what was allotted them; a life in which equality was a dream of equal opportunity rather than the pipe dream of equal pay for grossly unequal effort, which stripped everyone (with the exception of a lucky few - how ironic!) of their dignity.
With only a vague plan and just the clothes on their bodies, my parents left the U.S.S.R. with my toddler brother. They had not a dime to their names, only their dreams of discovering a better version of life for themselves and their child. Before being allowed to leave the country, however, my mother - who was an engineer - was forced by her boss to participate in what can only be described as a public shaming ceremony. This was required by law to be conducted for anyone choosing to leave the Soviet Union (provided they were lucky enough to figure out how to do so, of course). A "party" was thrown in her honour, but rather than celebrating her achievements and contributions, she was subjected to vocal scorn and an official stripping of her communist accoutrements. She took it in stride and participated in this most unpleasant of Soviet experiences with the satisfaction of knowing it would be her last.
I didn't hear about this story until fairly recently. As a direct result of taking my life in Canada for granted, I never really asked my parents any meaningful questions about what life was like for them before leaving the U.S.S.R. Every so often, a story would be told, and I would listen to it the way a child listens to a storybook that she suspects couldn't possibly be true. It couldn't be real, I told myself, and continued to blindly take my own freedom for granted. This was how I behaved as a child. As an adult, however, I have a different perspective.
Today, I feel a bit of regret when I think about how much time I have wasted dreaming of a better world instead of shouting Canada's praises and embracing the ground beneath my feet. My parents arrived on Canadian soil abused, bewildered, impoverished and alone. Canada nourished them and brought them back to life. I owe my very existence to this country. I am so appreciative of it that I am sometimes brought to tears just thinking about it. I see its flaws and I still dream for it to approach a more perfect version of itself. Often, however, I unapologetically love it just the way it is.
I also regret how much mental energy I wasted opposing war as a concept and denying that human beings could have as much "bad" in them as people suggested. It turns out that although war is bad, it really only exists because people can be bad. Very, very bad. I hate to say that, and I wish I didn't believe it. To add to this truth,
unfortunately, bad people aren't always stupid. That would make things
too easy. Sadly, the world has produced countless examples of very bad,
very intelligent, people - and these people have wreaked havoc on
humanity, time after time. These bad people are the ones who destroyed
the world's Marxist-Leninist and otherwise socialist experiments (and will continue to destroy future iterations,
regardless of how pretty they look on paper), the ones who murdered
millions of people in the name of world "purification", the ones who
have convinced people to raise their children to blow themselves up and
take as many people with them as possible in order to further their
cause. Sadly, (and maybe this is too pessimistic) bad people will always exist, and it's more or less idiotic to
live life thinking they won't strike again. Try as you might to communicate reasonably with evil, it won't meet you halfway. And if you let your guard down, you can guess the consequences. It will also apparently use the media to try to convince you that it's the solution to or the victim of, rather the perpetrator of the evil in question. As it turns out, it will often somehow succeed - probably because we just don't want to live in a world where the alternative is possible.
When talking about evil, by the way, I use Dr. Jordan Peterson's definition of evil, which I learned so many years ago in a U of T psychology class that changed the way I see almost everything. To greatly simplify, he states that "evil is the conscious attempt to make the conditions of existence more pathological than they have to be." He also explained in one of our classes - and I'm paraphrasing - that evil is the result of an arrogant disregard for the evidence leading you to a better perspective; it's the insistence on continuing to function within your paradigm despite evidence that your paradigm no longer works. To get your mind blown open by one of his talks, click here.
Working on the improvement of the world is not negotiable (and according to Peterson, it starts inside the individual), but there are some societies that invite that kind of work and other societies that kill the dream - either through brainwashing or the threat of death - before it even has a chance to take hold. I consider myself extremely lucky to live in the former, and I sing the praises of countries around the world whose mission is to keep those channels open. I've personally made the decision not to accept any excuses for evil. Poor living conditions or prior slights, for example, do not excuse evil behaviour. Not within myself and not from others. It needs to be identified and called out for what it is - and the ability to do that is one hundred percent worth fighting for.
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