Slavery in Today’s World
I recently watched a movie that I have seen a few times called “Amazing Grace”.
It is the story of one man’s passionate fight to abolish most of the slave trade in the British Empire. William Wilberforce, after decades of persistent and sometimes agonizing campaigning, was successful in assuring passage of the Slavery Abolish Act of 1833. Sadly, he died 3 days after hearing of Parliaments
commitment to this Act. Many do not know he was also responsible for the formation of Britain’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
I often enjoy watching movies that are inspiring in this nature. It also inspires me to learn more about the truth of these individuals’ lives and try to understand what was in their nature, character, or history to develop the kind of drive and passion to accomplish what they did. It inspires me to look within my own heart and challenge my own self.
As I mentioned, I had watched this movie before. But this time, because of personal experiences I encountered within the past year, I found my mind swarming with a sort of intensity to express the concerns I have about slavery in today’s world and society. My mind was easily flooded with analogies of types of slavery in our lives today and descriptions of slavery of the past.
My path crossed this past year with a young woman that was a victim of human trafficking. It is one of the fastest growing crimes in our nation today and the second largest money making crime in the world, second only to drug trafficking. She had been abducted, drugged, transported, and victimized in the sex slave trade here in our own country.
I also thought about some of the situations I have read about in regards to the treatment of migrant workers. Many of the stories highlight the need for fair and ethical treatment of these hard working human beings trying to create a life of happiness and fulfillment. My mind then wandered to the stories of domestic violence or child abuse when the victims become slaves within their own homes and hearts. I thought about how slavery even extends into the animal world. I read constantly about cases of puppy mills and dogs being kept their entire lives in cages meant only for breeding and profit. I thought about how the dogs raised solely to train to fight to the death in dark corners of communities are slaves to their owners and trapped in a life of loveless pain and isolation. I thought about how even living with a societal stigma such as the one I have faced living with a mental illness is a form of slavery in itself. I thought about how the power and control of corrupt governments, huge financial industries, HMO’s or pharmaceutical companies in their own way can make us feel like slaves. Slavery has not been abolished in reality. It takes many forms.
Thinking about all of this at first was making me feel discouraged and vulnerable. But then I reflected on stories of single individuals that have made huge differences by inspiring others to find their energy and motivation. But it always begins within our own hearts, consciousness, and minds. This energy and drive to change what feels wrong can also come in many forms.
The song “Amazing Grace” was written by a man named John Newton. He was a man that served in the Royal Navy and eventually found himself participating in the slave trade in the mid 1700’s. What he witnessed gnawed at his conscious, but it wasn’t until a terrible storm at sea that almost destroyed his ship terrified him so badly that he bargained with GOD to devote his life to Him should he live. In the song Amazing Grace he writes, “Twas grace that taught my heart to fear and grace my fears relieved”. After that, he studied theology and became a clergyman. His eye witness descriptions and writing of the slavery he witnessed helped William Wilberforce eventually abolish the slave trade. He began these writings at a time when he himself was becoming blind hence the words, “Am blind, but now I see”. But he was also describing the blindness that covered his heart during a time when he was witnessing horrendous human depravity. What is it that prevents us from feeling compassion or empathy for engaging in the plight of others? Generally it is fear itself. But once the fear is lifted, compassion can begin.
I often ask myself, what are the worst possible consequences speaking the truth and can I live with them? What are the consequences of NOT taking action or speaking out in the assistance of someone in need? Generally those consequences feel far worse. I believe in the power of slow, but persistent pestering to be heard. I believe everyone has times when their energy fails them and there is a need to rest, hibernate, or recover for a while. I believe it’s always OK to ask for help or assistance when needed. But at times when the energy of spirit returns, I then try to gently push forward in nonviolent and non-harmful ways.
I was raised in a Christian church but have found my home in a Unitarian Universalist’s environment because I believe in the worth and dignity of each human being and creature on this earth no matter what spiritual path they choose to follow. As a Unitarian, I am free to practice my Christian beliefs in tolerance of any other person’s ethical application of their religious beliefs. I agree with the Buddhist philosophy to “Develop a good heart that longs for other beings to find lasting happiness and act to secure that happiness. To nourish and practice kindness.” I believe in the power of empathy which is defined as the intimate comprehension of another person’s thoughts or feelings, without imposing our own judgment or expectations. I believe we are all flawed and need to periodically fail now and then in order to grow, strengthen and change. So what do we need to do to in our lives to end slavery? Perhaps it begins by ending the types of slavery we each carry within our own hearts and minds.