“Why do bats fly at night?” my grandfather asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“A long time ago, the birds and mammals were at war with each other,” he said. “This war went on for thousands of years. When it looked like the birds were winning, the bat would fly and call itself a bird. And when it looked like the mammals were winning, it would walk on the ground, say, ‘Look at my fur and hair, I’m one of you.’”
But one day, the birds and mammals decided to have a truce and live in peace. It was during this coming together that they realized the bat had been fighting on both sides. Enraged, all the animals began to search for the bat with the intent to punish him.
Afraid of getting caught, the bat flew away and hid in a dark cave. And from that day on, burdened by shame and fear, the bat decided to only come out at night to hunt and feed.”
Growing up in a culture that considers neutrality to be a sign of indecisiveness, a lack of fortitude and conviction, my grandfather told me this story to teach me the importance of always standing up and speaking out.
Truth is, when I was young I always avoided conflict and confrontation, and he loved that about me. He found my amiable disposition endearing, but that day it worried him. I had come back home from school and as always, whenever he visited we would sit down and catch up on life and those moments we’ve missed since we last saw each other.
That day I had witnessed someone getting bullied. The reason that memory sticks with me to this very day is that unlike most encounters and altercations I had witnessed over the course of the school year, this one went beyond the occasional name calling or teasing. It crossed into the realm of physical abuse—slaps, kicks, and spit.
And what made this story worse is that these bullies were my rugby teammates. They were a year older than me, and so I have to admit, I was scared of them. But being their teammate afforded me a little bit of privilege, and by “privilege” I mean immunity from their reign of terror. It’s not that I wasn’t bullied by them, but I what dealt with paled in comparison to what everyone else had to endure.
And so, out of fear of losing that “privilege”, I did nothing. Nobody did. We just watched, hoping it would end quickly on its own. We may have even convinced ourselves that it wasn’t our business, or that maybe, he had done something to deserve. But deep down inside we know he didn’t. And it’s this apathy, this fear of doing what’s right when staring in the face of something clearly wrong while feigning neutrality that bothered my grandfather.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor,” Desmond Tutu once said, the lesson my grandfather was clearly trying to teach me. A lesson that remind that from the heroes and faces we know to those less celebrated and unsung, the most incredible and defining instances in our story as a species have come in those moments people have stood up for the greater good of others. Moments when they stared evil in the eye when turning a blind one would have been easier, moments when standing up for what’s right meant sacrificing their livelihood, losing family and friends, freedom, or even their lives.
‘The hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, maintain their neutrality.” It’s a quote many attribute to Dante Alighieri although it doesn’t necessarily appear in ‘Inferno’ or any of his other works. Nevertheless, it’s a quote I find it to be powerful, especially in the current social and political zeitgeist we find ourselves in the grips of. In this see-sawing climate that slides many of us to the opposite ends of the many harmful, toxic and ever growing extremes that divide, it is those of us that stay neutral that can tilt the scales between good and evil, right and wrong.
My mother always said, “we are blessed in order to bless others. And if you’re not living for the greater good of others, you’re just a waste of space and good air.” Standing up for what’s right can be difficult, and although there is still work to be done, one look at how far we’ve come as species lets us know it’s all worth it. Big or small, rest assured, we all have a role to play and something beautiful to give to the world. Shed your complacency and hesitation, and embrace your capacity to be a force of good and kindness in a world that sometimes feels void of it.
Kwapi Vengesayi is an Amazon bestselling author whose books explore captivating musings and thought-provoking conversations about love, relationships, life and our human experience. You can find his book on Amazon. You can also follow him on Twitter @kwapiv or subscribe to his blog at kwapiv.com