What am I supposed to do about it? This question, in its varying forms, floats through my head whenever I encounter the injustices and inhuman behavior that is eventually posted on this website. The question flows sometimes silently, sometimes furiously. It nags. It inspires. It bewilders. We become witnesses, third-, fourth-, or even fifth-hand, as we read the atrocities that women endure. A link, a connection to others, often oceans and cultures away, forms while we absorb the descriptions of the frustrating and dangerous situations that millions experience daily.
Fyodor Dostoevsky writes regarding our linkage to humanity:
“For know, dear ones, that every one of us is undoubtedly responsible for all men and everything on earth, not merely through the general sinfulness of creation, but each one personally for all mankind and every individual man. This knowledge is the crown of life for the monk and for every man . . . Only through that knowledge, our heart grows soft with infinite, universal, inexhaustible love. Then every one of you will have the power to win over the whole world by love and to wash away the sins of the world with your tears.”
This affirmation of our attachment to all men and women initially feels terribly incriminating. Human choice seems to be an entirely individual, isolated action. Am I truly responsible for anyone besides myself? Can I really be guilty for trafficking in Laos or abuse in Latvia? I do not believe we are to raise our hands in innocence, nor are we to drop our heads hopelessly. The responsibility described means a recognition of the rippling effects of ignorance, complacency, and dishonesty, as well as engaged service and sincere concern. Assuming the burden of responsibility for the other allows us to discover why loving the neighbor as oneself is a central quest in our existence.
Dostoevsky also shares a folk story that tells of a wicked peasant woman who escaped the underworld because she once gave an onion to a beggar. The intent of Dostoevsky surely was not to provide an exact prescription of what specific deeds ensure our eventual happiness, but to exhibit the simplicity of how to “win over the world by love.” When we read about Zulhumor Tohtonazaroud of Kyrgyzstan, who was raped by policeman, gave birth prematurely while handcuffed to a bed, and was tortured by having pins pushed under her hails, or Elise from the Congo, who was threatened with death and then raped by soldiers, or women abused and killed by witch-hunting in India, what are we supposed to do about it?
Extend an onion. This offering may be a donation, a prayer, a vote, a reading selection, a career choice, or a renewed commitment to treating women as equals. I believe accepting responsibility for all is “the crown of life” and is realized in the giving of onions.