By Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, Vice President, PSAEW
Every parent’s heart sinks when they hear their child scream “…I hate you!”
A very emotive and damaging word, hate generally shows a deep feeling which permeates into hurtful language and behaviour. When it comes from children towards parents, it is mostly immaturity and a lack of understanding.
It’s an inevitable part of parenting but thankfully as they develop through maturity and education, these outbursts tail off.
But when hate permeates through adults and across groups and communities, the effect can be corrosive and destructive.
I have recently returned from Krakow in Poland, where I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau – the former death camps of World War Two.
As I walked through both camps, I felt overwhelmed by the sense of cruelty and fragility of life that linger in the history of inhumane acts that once occurred here.
More than a million Jews, disabled people, and others were killed in this despicable period.
This is a place so sickening that many struggle to find the words that can best describe their feelings.
It was heart wrenching to see the glasses, shoes, hair and clothing left by those going on their final journey.
The crematorium was a stark reminder of the production line of death created for innocent members of the public, whose only characteristic was to be different.
So what was it that created a moment in time where one group of people decided on the mass murder of another? How did Hitler and the Nazi Party engender a climate where this appalling behaviour was deemed acceptable?
Hitler clearly tapped into and harnessed deep feelings that he managed to unleash, and ultimately changed the course of history, at the cost of so many lives.
Academics and historians have carefully tried to establish how hatred was harnessed and abused on a national and global scale.
Humans are tribal by nature, and communities can sometimes become cohesive through the commonality of hatred and distrust. Sadly, this can then lead to threats and violence against those perceived to be different. This is all part of a power struggle that individuals and communities grapple with every day.
Surely, the lessons learned from World War Two must be used today to ensure safety, comfort, reassurance and a more inclusive world.
We have seen international conflict, we have seen figures across the world attempting to harness fear for political means, and sadly, in Britain, we saw a rise in hate crime in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote. All arising through destructive hatred and a lack of understanding.
But there is hope. Despite the tragedy that occurred in Auschwitz, I read and heard stories of people saving others from an otherwise inevitable fate, showing the human spirit at its absolute best.
These are stories of people acting on values, faith, religion or beliefs that they knew were right for humanity. Thankfully, the vast majority of people are like this.
The response to any form of hatred is education and a maintenance of deep positive values – wherever a person, or indeed a society, can find them.
This is not a job solely for those in power. We all have a responsibility to educate, challenge and inform others, whether it is at home with our children, at work with our colleagues, in the pub with our friends and even – maybe especially these days – on social media.
Even small conversations are where an embryonic message of distrust or hatred can be challenged, through knowledge, understanding and inclusivity.
This is vital for us all to continue enjoying life in a democratic, liberal society – the ultimate tribute, during this period of Remembrance, to all those who fought, suffered and died so we could have just that.