Irving and Betty Brudnick (left), founders of The Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict, along with Jack Levin (right), the director of the center and professor at Northeastern University.
This important center, dedicated here at Northeastern University, my Alma Mater, with this first symposium on social prejudice, violence and hate crimes, is committed to finding answers that will peacefully substantially eliminate the social barriers that separate and divide peoples, and to reduce the ever burgeoning increase of hatred and violence that have made this century one of the most horrific periods in history. To my wife, Betty and I, it represents our permanent commitment to what is called in Hebrew “Tikkun Olom”, humanity’s mandated mission to repair the world.
It is appropriate that this center be located here at Northeastern by virtue of the University’s long standing efforts to foster better understanding and tolerance between the full spectrum of ethnic diversity that comprise its 20,000 member student body. Northeastern’s faculty and administration are dedicated to achieving the harmony and universal benefits that pluralism in its finest form can create in bringing out the best in humanity.
It is incomprehensible to me that with the vast increase in human knowledge in so short a period of time; with the miracles in the worlds of science, medicine, technology, our understanding of the cosmos as well as the secrets of the atom, our ability to achieve the necessary power and velocities to escape the gravity that binds us to this planet and the ability to return to it, the miracles of mass communication in every form, the human genome project and its projected knowledge of the function of every gene in our bodies, the ability to clone identical images of living things, and perhaps, one day to create life itself– with all this, we have made no progress in improving on the worst aspects of human nature.
Personally, I don’t believe that human intelligence itself has increased much in the last 4000 years of recorded history, from the earliest people who stared at the heavens and wondered, from Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Galileo, Corpernicus, Maimonides and St. Thomas Aquinas, the great theologians, theorists, and philosophers up to the present day. True, our store of knowledge has become vast, made possible by the tools of technology and new concepts in combination with our basic intelligence. But, has human nature undergone any improvements? Look at the chaos of our national social problems, the unprecedented horrors around the globe, solving disputes by who can kill more of the opposition. Improving human nature needs no miracles of technology, only understanding, tolerance, compassion, an ethical morality, and a healthy respect for the differences in human appearance, as well as respect for the opinions of others.
Thousands of years ago, we humans killed each other for territory, power, greed, perceived wrongs, and the simple face that anyone different from ourselves was a threat, represented someone inferior, somehow less than human, and made openly manifest their “otherness.” Once a person has been de-humanized, it is quite easy to kill them with no pangs of conscience.
Tell me, how much improvement in our ability to solve disputes peacefully has occurred now, in our time, in this present year, as we approach the next millennium? Has our respect for human differences increased any? Read the daily newspaper for a truthful answer.
The irony is that the basic dogmas every religion on earth demands of its followers that they follow the precepts of tolerance and compassion for the stranger or the “other” among us, charity, love of all humanity and respect for equal universal rights since we all have a common origin, a democratic not theocratic form of governance, equality between the sexes created by God, and a moral ethical pursuit of social justice. The real unadorned truth is that these lofty signposts of life have been observed mainly in their breach, their distortions and their violations. We have, over the years, raised the art of hypocrisy to new heights. What’s more, we don’t even see it.
I grew up in a lower-middle class neighborhood. My friends were of every conceivable backgrounds, and in all our games, whether on the street or the nearest park, it would have been unthinkable that someone would not be allowed to play and join in the fun. No uniforms, no equipment, no leagues, no coaches, no parental interference, just daily pick-up games with every kid an equal, not necessarily in ability, but with the right not to be excluded from the fun.
Sometime, in early school years, things began to change. We took notice of differing physical characteristics and differing religions or cultures. Stereotypes were fed to us at home as well as at school. We grew insular and parochial. Gone were the unquestioned friendships of earlier days. It didn’t happen overnight but it sure happened. Were we unknowing victims of that song from the musical “South Pacific”, the ones that goes “You have to be taught to love and hate. You have to be carefully taught”.
I am so lucky that my life has turned out the way is has, beyond my wildest dreams, after I had graduated at age 18 from Northeastern. Sure, sometimes the going got real rough, but my wonderful mate, Betty, stood by my side through thick and thin. I am proud beyond description of my three children and their spouses who are all fine human beings. Soon, Betty and I will be the grandparents of eight.
Four years ago, after the sale of the business, I had started when I was nineteen, gave the financial means and the time to stop standing on the sidelines and moaning how the world has going to hell. I could do more than just read about the daily tragedies, violent crimes, bombings, mass murder in tribal societies in this “The century of knowledge and enlightenment”, societies in which those who had the power determined whether you lived or were killed. I realized then that I can, and you can, begin to make a difference, each in our own way.
The purposed of this center is not just to study as an abstraction the factors involved in these abominable social problems, but also to develop techniques to change and solve them, and to do our best to try to implement them. Let students who truly want to repair the ills of our world come here to Northeastern, to this Center, to learn and then to act.
This symposium, international in scope, is the opening event in the mission of this Center. We have already begun. Let’s not be passive and say “This is the way it is and that’s that.” Theodor Herzl, a Viennese reporter covering the infamous Dreyfus trial in France, where he discovered his future, and in the face of unbelievable odds and the seeming hatred of the entire world said it so well — “If you will it, it is no dream”.
Dedication Speech by Irving S. Brudnick November 5, 1998