Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Human Rights and the Meaning Behind the Candle Wrapped in Barbed Wire

"Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good." - Rom. xii. 21. 

"Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness." W.L. Watkins (1907)

 Amnesty International on its "Key Facts" website explains the origin of its logo as being inspired by "an ancient Chinese proverb" that inspired its founder Peter Benenson in 1961, but when searching for the context found that in the English language the phrase was first spoken in "The Invincible Strategy", a public sermon, and published by William L. Watkinson, a Methodist Minister, in 1907.

Apparently, the second time the phrase was used publicly was by Peter Benenson on December 10, 1961 at an International Human Rights Day ceremony. It served as the inspiration for the Amnesty International logo, a candle wrapped in barbed wire.

Whether or not there is a Chinese proverb with a similar sentiment haven't been able to find it searching through the internet and welcome anyone providing the source and the Chinese characters.

However, the source in English bears a closer reading along with taking it in context because it is far more powerful. The full sermon is available online or you can purchase a copy but either way it is a must read.

The following excerpt taken from pg 218-219 of The Invincible Strategy, A Sermon should be required reading by everyone, but especially activists or anyone involved in public service:
Evil is not overcome by denunciation. It is surprising how much efficacy is supposed to go with denunciation. Real, constructive, aggressive good is of far greater significance than eloquent invective; such invective has its place, but it must be accompanied by active practical effort, or it effects little more than summer lightning. Carlyle, in his review of Elliott the Corn-Law Rhymer, has a most instructive passage. "We could truly wish to see such a mind as his engaged rather in considering what, in his own sphere, could be done, than what, in his own or other spheres,ought to be destroyed; rather in producing or preserving the True, than in mangling and slashing asunder the False." But denunciatory rhetoric is so much easier and cheaper than good works, and proves a popular temptation. Yet is it far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness. What this world awaits is personal, positive, constructive goodness. Not by law, legislation, and rhetoric shall we prevail, but by practical righteousness, noble philanthropy, intellectual and spiritual education; by the positive remedy of superior character,action, and institutions do we make it difficult for evil to survive.
The early years of the 20th Century, prior to the catastrophe of World War I, was a culminating point for Western Civilization and the ideas that were circulating in that first decade of the 20th Century reverberate for good or ill to the present day. This essay will focus on the idea that the best manner to confront and defeat evil is not denouncing or destroying one's adversary but producing and preserving that which is true and having a constructive program. On September 11, 1906 in South Africa, as part of a contest, Mohandas Gandhi coined the term Satyagraha which translates into English literally as "holding firmly to truth."

 Less than a year later a Methodist minister is embracing an outlook that is profoundly Christian and complements Gandhi's teachings on the relationship between truth, nonviolence and resisting evil with a constructive program, and 54 years later a phrase from that same sermon may have inspired the founding of Amnesty International which has done much good.

"But by their fruit you will know them. Do they gather grapes from thorns or figs from thistles?" -Matthew 7:16

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