How are ordinary people persuaded to comply passively with injustice …

Taking the bus, which costs about a dime, after listening to Càntor, Ensamble de música antigua perform Vivaldi, Bach, Telemann, Handel and Hayden at the Gene Byron Museum, the woman in front of me turned around and we talked. We met at the reception after the concert in the courtyard of the magnificent hacienda. I recalled her from the Guanajuato monthly public reading series Chuck and I participate in. She read from the end of a play her husband, Thomas M Robinson, professor emeritus of Ancient Greek Philosophy at the University of Toronto, wrote. The scene reveals a deep and complex relationship between Socrates and Aspasia. She was a companion of Pericles, known for her intellectual prowess and for running the best whorehouse in Athens. Dr Robinson believes the conversations between Socrates and Aspasia influenced Socrates’ thinking a great deal. I did as well by the end of the scene.

We chatted away. I blithely asked, “What is your name?” She replied, “Erna Paris.” “What a wonderful name! Did you make it up?” Her glance made me wonder if I’d just bumbled a bit. She said, “No, my first husband from Paris, was also named Paris. I could give him up, but not that name.” I then asked if she wrote. She let me know that, actually, she wrote a lot. Her book, From Tolerance to Tyranny: A Cautionary Tale from Fifteenth-Century Spain, had just been released. We talked about how for 700 years Spain had been a very good example of how Muslims, Jews and Christians could live in productive peace with one another. She is intensely interested in understanding what promotes the kind of integration of diversity that goes beyond acceptance to a place where deep interconnection occurs and further, what destroys or prevents harmonious relations between diverse peoples.

Erna asked me what I did. “I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister.” She said, “We are on the same side.” I said, “Yes, we are.”

That evening, I Googled Erna and found that she has a distinguished international career as a historian, writer and political commentator. In an interview in the Ottawa Citizen, January 20, 2015, she said, “The most elusive question about tyranny is this: How are ordinary people persuaded to comply passively with injustice, or to take the next step and actively turn on neighbors with whom they may have lived in peace for decades, or even centuries? A devalued, marginalized minority seems to be the key. By being exposed to a continuum of propaganda, decent human beings are transformed and desensitized.”

We talked freely, in part because we share the same progressive aspirations and both enjoy a good chat; the kind that keeps you keen for those odd intersections that reveal life’s rich possibilities. It nudges me to let serendipity do its unexpected work and to value the lives of strangers.

Let the sun shine in,

Michael

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