Pulitzer Prize winning historian Jon Meacham has written a new book with country singer Tim McGraw called Songs of America. In promoting his latest work, Meacham often says of America, “We are at our best when we live up to the words of Jefferson, ‘all men are created equal’.”
But within that founding sentiment we rarely ask how is it that all men are truly created equal. What is it that binds us all in this human family?
There is an underlying assumption that because our Creator is deemed good, and we have been made in His likeness and image, that there is dignity and value in all men and women, and it is that understanding that makes us all alike. But history and experience tells us something quite different.
Today, as I write I am headed to Rwanda for next weekend’s 15th Kigali International Peace Marathon. 25 years ago that central African nation erupted in a paroxysm of violence that shocked the world. Over the span of just 100 days, more than 800,000 people were slaughtered in an ethnic cleansing that was arguably the most horrific in modern history.
The Rwandan genocide was set off by a political dynamic that featured a callous ex-colonial overlord along with a long-standing political animus between two native majority-minority peoples, the Hutus and Tutsis. All it took to trip the wire into genocide was the indifference and cynicism of the world at-large and the vulnerability of the weak. And that, one might suggest, is how the equality of man can best be understood.
Man’s inhumanity to his fellow man is the equality that stains us all. We have witnessed genocide over and over again in modern times. It has come to Armenia, Bosnia, Burma, Cambodia, and the Congo, in the Holocaust of World War II, in South Sudan, and most recently in Syria. And it lies nascent in every society where one people feels superior to or aggrieved by another.
It is the exception rather than the rule that the good in men and women is what binds us. It is why the loss of just one person as good as Gabe Grunewald has moved so many people as she battled the fierce cancer that finally took her life yesterday at her home in Minnesota.
Because we know down deep that the darker side of our nature is what we must all be on guard against, just like we must continue to workout every day to attain and maintain our best physical condition. Goodness, like fitness, is not like a bank account that accrues interest if we stop making deposits.
So it is that man’s inhumanity to man is the attribute that must be suppressed on an every-day basis so that the ways that we are all truly equal won’t resurface and lead us once more into the wilderness of our natural state.
Rest In Peace, Gabe, and thank you. You have shown us the way in the all too short life that you led, and by the dignity in the way that you left us.