World Refugee Day
Posted by Christopher Coen on June 20, 2011
June 20th is World Refugee Day – a time for us to bring the plight of refugees into our society’s awareness. I think that at the center of the refugee experience is the issue of power, more specifically, the abuse of power.
To me power is the act of exerting one’s will over another. Everyday we find ourselves challenged on how to do this as individual people — which is the struggle we can have with personal morality — and ethics, a branch of philosophy that addresses questions about personal morality. One of the most obvious places that this comes into play is when an adult interacts with a child. Most of us instinctively know that it is our responsibility to protect children’s welfare, and this responsibility forces us to use power to ensure a child is safe. But the power differential between an adult and a child is in stark contrast. An adult may find themselves tempted to take certain liberties with a child that he or she would more rarely take with an adult — maybe a comment or criticism that is a bit too intrusive.
People don’t like to admit it but we are all very sensitive to power. As a social species nature has programmed us to seek order by determining each other’s power in relation to our own — do they have more power or less? Everything we do as a species, for good or for bad, requires actions that we regulate with power. Some of the starkest demonstrations of abuse of power is in the plight of refugees — the dictators, ethnic cleansing, and genocide these human beings flee from; their desperate attempts to survive; their resilience; the severe damage that others have people inflicted upon them.
But I think we shouldn’t let that blind us to all the other small and large abuses of power all around us everyday, and our own abuses of power in small and larger ways. To really honor the plight of refugees we must look at power, and especially how we use power against others, and how we take no action when others abuse their power. We must be the change we want to see in the world or the world will not change.