Shira Aronson is a grade 10 student at TCW who just won 1st place in the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center (FSWC) sixth annual Speaker’s Idol evening, held Wednesday night at Toronto Centre for the Arts. Shira received a laptop and a plaque. Below is her award winning speech.
We’re told that anyone can change the world. Simon Wiesenthal once said, “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men and women to do nothing.” Wiesenthal’s message is simple and clear. However, its application has proven to be much more complex in our reality. Wiesenthal had a view of the infallible individual “good”, whereas today’s reality of moral relativism creates multiple definitions of good. These varying definitions of good impair the ability of an individual to positively change the world. John Locke was a 17th century English philosopher who has shaped modern thinking of how society defines for itself what is good. In the Origins of Government,he writes that “men, being biased by their own interest… [require] an established, settled, and known law… to be the standard of right and wrong.” The need for a universal definition has been demonstrated by the tragedies of recent history, caused by varying definitions of good.
The 1994 Rwandan Genocide claimed the lives of 800 000 people while the world struggled to take decisive action. The Canadian Lieutenant General Roméo Dallaire commanded the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda. He writes:
[N]ations have become accustomed to acting if, and only if, international public opinion will support them – a dangerous path that leads to a moral relativism in which a country risks losing sight of the difference between good and evil.
While hundreds of thousands were being killed in Rwanda, the nations of the world decided for themselves how to respond. As they deliberated over their individual definition of good, a genocide occurred that resulted in the death of 800 000 people.
In Biafra in the late 1960s, the Nigerian civil war led to the starvation of one million people in full view of the Western World. Countries could do very little to assist, since, in spite of numerous peace conferences Nigeria, Biafra, and their allies could not come to a basic humanitarian solution. No parties could find a definition of good that would benefit all people and as a result, one million people starved to death.
Wiesenthal’s ideal had been based on a universal definition of good. In today’s reality, the relativism of people and nations demands integration of varying definitions of good in order to actually effect world change. There cannot be individual definitions of good. Simon Wiesenthal said that “for evil to flourish it only requires good men and women to do nothing,” which implies that individuals can each change the world. Wiesenthal’s insight can actually be interpreted more richly: to change the world, individuals first must strive for a universal definition of good as a standard relevant to all people.
Rabbi Buckman congratulates Shira on her award.
Shira receives a Certificate of Achievement from Jennifer Valentyne.