By Aryssa Yoon, David Sehyeon Baek and Karthiga Ratnam
Two households, both alike in dignity
(In fair Verona, where we lay our scene),
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean
-Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare
This prologue of Shakespeare’s infamous love story about the star-crossed lovers – Romeo and Juliet. These four lines have been interpreted by English lit majors for decades. The words we found interesting are “ancient grudge”. A grudge so ancient a clear reason why the Montagues and Capulets are feuding is not known. And yet for generations, this feud has spilled innocent blood and threatens the peace of the city – Verona.
What is romantic about ancient grudges? Why does that need to be passed on through generations? And why did Shakespeare feel the need to highlight it? What if Romeo and Juliet isn’t a story about doomed lovers? What if it’s a play about the price of intergenerational hate?
The Montagues and Capulets learned their lesson at the cost of their future generation. Are we going to make the same mistake? Do we really need to sacrifice our children to hate and conflict?
Each species on this planet makes a contribution and serves a purpose on this planet. What is our role as a species? Are we sowing hate and conflict because we don’t have a defined functional purpose? According to Tyson Yunkaporta, our job – our purpose is to be the custodians of this planet. Custodians. WOW!
We are responsible for protecting this planet. Every other species on this planet is playing its/their part. Are we? We can’t stop hating each other for 2 seconds to agree on anything. Let alone how we are going to collectively protect this planet.
Have you seen those you had one job memes? That’s us. We had one job. We seem to have botched it. What we should be passing on from one generation to the next is the custodianship of the planet. Ways and means to protect and care for it. Instead, we seem to be passing on intergenerational trauma, hate, and conflict.
This leads us to a personal experience that David Sehyeon had as a child.
Once upon a time when David Sehyeon was a wee lad, he was walking down the street in Seoul. He encountered a boy who looked like a foreigner but at a closer look showed he was of mixed race. Probably, a foreign parent and a Korean parent. Then he saw a bunch of Korean kids surrounding him, calling him names and making fun of him for being a foreigner, not a pure Korean. Needless to say this shocked David. He did not know these children personally but thought that it was disturbing that such young children were already discriminating against a foreign-looking but obviously a Korean kid. Parallels can be drawn with how Asian Americans who have lived in the USA for decades have become a target of hatred and hate crimes based on the rumor that COVID-19 started from Wuhan, China. There is no reason on earth that justifies targeting innocent people.
The incident that David witnessed haunts him to this day. It also got him thinking. Why were these young children exhibiting what could only be termed as racial bias? Of course, they were still young and immature, so with the passage of time, they might become more mature and think differently. But where did the need to gang up on a kid who looked different come from?
He couldn’t imagine the idea that their parents sat and talked to them, trying to teach them to not accept any foreigners, especially those dark-skinned. It was highly unlikely.
It dawned on him, however, that one of the possibilities might be conceivable. They might not teach people enough about the importance of accepting diversity and they might overly emphasize the importance of being proud of being a Korean. This is not confined to Korea only. This is just one example. This can happen to any country, group or community.
Take a look at this diagram by Matt Rettig on intergenerational trauma. We are all born free! No biases or preconceived notions. Whether we like to admit it or not, our first socialization does happen at home. These are reinforced in schools, religious institutions, communities, workplaces and more.
When we teach people/kids about being proud of being a member of one group, whether it is a nation or organization, we might also be inadvertently teaching why it is justifiable to discriminate against those who do not belong to our group. It is not by design to teach them how to discriminate against outsiders, but teaching them too much about why it is so important to be a member of a certain group and why it is so special might mislead people to believe that it is also right to discriminate against those who do not belong to them.
It is understandable to teach children to be proud of being an American or a Korean or a Japanese and so on. This is not to deny the importance of teaching people how to be proud of who they are. Nonetheless, it is also crucial to teach children to respect differences and the fundamentals of restorative justice.
Take the Nazis as an example. They underlined the importance of being a Nordic or Aryan race, and it convinced people that they were superior to the others and ended up being misled to believe that the lives of the different races or peoples were of no value at all. It might sound extreme but it is not so difficult to find such cases in history and even right now. People are mistaken to believe that being proud of being a member of a group means it is acceptable to dehumanize the rest of the people or foreigners. The problem with supremacy? Dr Zemo explained it best in a recent The Falcon and the Winter Soldier episode.
If you need further proof of the generational nature of hate and conflict, take a look at our macro cause and effect map.
Most issues are cyclic. We pass them on from one generation to the next. Whether its poverty, biases, trauma, trauma, effects of national emergencies and so on. And the burden of solving these issues keeps getting passed onto the next generation.
Making matters worse are public policy, and institutionalized hate and conflict.
What are the possible solutions?
We believe education is the key. A problem that was created through generations will take a few generations to solve. But education is the great equalizer.
Granted education will not solve problems overnight, but in the end, it can have an impact, unless people manipulate it and take advantage of education for their political purpose. History is written by the victors and those in power. We would be remiss though if we didn’t echo a word of caution. Revisionist history will further fuel hate and conflict.
We might be naive and idealist to believe that education should be free from politics. We need to “free” education from being used as a tool to teach people hatred and discrimination.
Extreme nationalism is an example. But if we can teach people how to avoid logical fallacies and extreme nationalism, not to mention racism or hatred, it will work. Of course, it is easier said than done. The question is always how, never about disputing what is right or wrong. It is easy to say that we need to educate people not to have prejudices, biases, hatred, racism, etc.
That being said, it is still daunting how we should help people to unlearn what they have already learned about all the hatred and prejudice. You have been taught to hate certain races or people or certain countries. It is really challenging to unlearn what you have already learned. It is like conditioning or brainwashing people. Nonetheless, it is noteworthy that the only solution is also education. Helping people to unlearn what was learned is the only way to help people to overcome them.
We leave you with this telling quote by Shakespeare in the play Julius Caesar:
‘And when the drums of war have reached a fever pitch and the blood boils with hate and the mind is closed, the leader will have no need in seizing the rights of the citizenry. Rather, the citizenry infused with fear and blinded by patriotism, will offer up all of their rights unto the leader and do it gladly so.’ – Julius Caesar
Join us at the Wicked 7 and help us turn the pyramid of hate to a pyramid of love.