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You have to take the imperative that you’re responsible for the whole world [Vaclav Havel]

I recently watched a documentary on the Czech struggle to overthrow oppressive rule. After forty years, a critical mass managed to topple a mighty regime. 

Dictatorships make powerless the very people they’re expected to protect. Not surprisingly, many in the wake of the communist takeover suffered an identity change which crushed their morale. Those who got ahead behaved as secret police, gaining advantage by selling out their peers. Czechoslovakia became a satellite state in which tattling, spying, snitching, and discussing people behind their backs were the behaviors du jour.

Shattered relationships result when you speak at or about other people, and not with them. Convoluted communication is thus the product of poor direction.

Czech success is attributed to a nation in which people refused to remain bystanders – whose collective presence unclenched the fist of the Iron Curtain. The Czech uprising in the 1980s (largely instigated by students) was successful because the masses banded together against a small cohort of tyrannical rulers. Overwhelmed, humiliated, and cowed by comparison, the communist elite yielded to a coup of more democratic thinkers. Organizational dissidents – in companies to prevent the rule of “yes men,” and in school systems to preempt the dominance of bullies – are capable of seizing power.

I would love to witness that same spirit infused within education – in other words, the willingness of students to resist oppression and to defy opposition. In a critical mass situation efforts to belittle you backfire. Why then does the majority (comprised of bystanders) remain silent? If they would band together, the bullies would cease to exist, and the power of the disordered would diminish.

It may be terrifying for a lone voice to disagree, but it’s exhilarating for the masses to reclaim their place. Individuals need to realize that there’s strength in numbers, and that their enslavement is sometimes purchased by their silence.

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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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