Stand up and stand out. Demonstrate your personal leadership. Those are the most important lessons to learn from the atrocities in the 20th century, according to Professor Timothy Snyder in his powerful booklet On Tyranny (2017).

Snyder teaches challenging lessons about personal leadership. It doesn’t take heroism to stand up against tyrants, he writes, it requires small and bigger everyday acts. A few examples: notice signs of hate such as swastikas and remove them yourself; or speak up against someone who is racist in public. “People who were not Nazis looked on with interest and amusement” when Nazis stole from Jews during the annex of Austria. “Do not look away.” I must confess that I tend to look away, especially if I feel afraid that the other person acts or might become agressive. Do you?

“By 1940 most Europeans had made their peace with the seemingly irresistible power of Nazi Germany. It is those who were considered exceptional, eccentric, or even insane in their own time – those who did not change when the world around them did – whom we remember and admire today.” It can feel insane to stand up and stand out and not be a part of the (silent) majority, to place yourself outside of the crowd.

We can be heroes but we do not need to be. All it takes, says Snyder, and that is enough I would add, is to “be as courageous as you can”. How much courage do you have?

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