Discrimination is an unjust treatment among people because of their race, color and even sex. Throughout history, people around the world have experienced some sort of discrimination that had led to missed opportunities, unequal treatment, biased and unfair dealing. Among the celebrated people who have known to have survived acts of discrimination during their time were Primo Levi and Sydney Poitier. These individuals had different experiences from being ostracized, discriminated and maltreated because they were looked upon differently.
Primo Levi: Holocaust Survivor
Primo Levi was born in 1919 in Turin, Italy. His family has Spanish roots and they were non-religious Jews. Levi was educated and pursued chemistry as his course and career. He received his degree in chemistry from the University of Turin in 1941. He worked as a chemist in a pharmaceutical laboratory after his education from the university. He worked in this company where he worked until 1943, when the Germans invaded Northern Italy (The Modern Word, n.d.).
Levi left his job and joined a band of partisans devoted to fighting Germans and Italian fascists. After being betrayed by one of his comrades, Levi was handed over to the Germans. He was deported to the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz. He spent 10 months at Auschwitz. There he worked in a synthetic rubber factory in one of the labor sections of the camp, the Monowitz. Soon, Levi became ill of scarlet fever. Thus, when the Russian forces were advancing in their camp, the Germans left Levi behind when they decided to evacuate from the place. In Levi was liberated in 1945 by the Red Guard (The Modern Word, n.d.).
Levi’s memories of his hard life in the Auschwitz were immortalized in his own memoir entitled “Survival in Auschwitz.” In his book, he told about his horror in the camp. He wrote his thoughts on how he had survived the hardships, inhuman treatment and brutality in an era, when hope and love must have been lost in the face of the earth for a moment.
Levi survived his life in the Auschwitz through his so-called “moral adaptability.” In his book, Levi said that within the concentration camps, the “ordinary moral world” ceases to exist. He said that to survive in the camp during the Holocaust period means giving up dignity and self-respect. He said that exposure to dehumanization eventually leads one to be dehumanized. Levi reiterated that one must resort to mental, emotional and physical adaptation where the fine line between good and evil, right and wrong, just and unjust does not anymore exist (Piccirillo, 2010).
To survive his life in the camp, Levi explained that one must retain his or her sanity. To do so, he said, one must focus on small distractions like thinking how to survive the biting cold, rather than focusing on hunger slightly alleviates the pain. Levi survived the concentration camp using “mind” over “matter.” He explained that the adaptability of the mind is important in order to survive in Auschwitz. He said that one must use the suffering and pain inflicted by forced labor and savage and violent beatings in camps as stimuli for survival. This was what Levi did to survive. He allowed himself to dwell on the pains and suffering that were inconceivable in normal, ordinary life (Piccirillo, 2010).
Levi embraced his suffering, hardships and pain so that he can focus on surviving. This was what Levi did, which showed his inner strength and his overwhelming capacity to survive the hardships that we cannot fathom or imagine to this day.
Sydney Poitier: His Color Made Him Different to the Eyes of White Americans
The racial discrimination in America is one of the country’s tragic histories that the world will never forget. Black African-Americans were seen as inferior because of their color.
Sydney Poitier, an acclaimed black Bahamian-American actor also had his share of racial discrimination when he was growing up. He is known as the first black American actor who won Best Actor in the Academy Award in 1964 in the film Lilies of the Field. He is also a writer and a director who is involved in many humanitarian endeavours around the world.
Poitier was born in 1927 and grew up in the poor, small island in the Bahamas. He said that when he was an adolescent, he was surprised to learn that whites looked at blacks as the inferior color and race (Sayre, 2000).
Poitier grew up in a poor family in Bahamas. His parents were tomato farmers. At 15, Poitier went to Miami to live with his brother. In the United States, he saw the strong racial discrimination and experienced a lot of maltreatment in the streets of Miami. When he was 18, Poitier went to New York to work, juggling various menial jobs for extra income. With his strong confidence, he entered the world of entertainment and tried his shot at the American Negro Theatre where he was rejected at first. He was accepted for the second audition and was eventually spotted in a rehearsal where he got his big break for a role in a Broadway production. He soon started his colourful career in the film industry and he started his long vocation in the world of show business and made a mark by becoming the first black American to win an Oscar (imdb, n.d.). He is the author of the well-acclaimed memoir “The Measure of a Man,” which tells about his family and his struggles in the world, including his battle against discrimination because of his color.
Poitier survived racial discrimination with his own inner strength. He fought this racial chasm that he saw when he was an adolescent through his career; improving his craft and showing that his color is not different, but unique and exceptional. He fought discrimination through the values that he had imbibed. He has integrity and respect, which catapulted him to high ranks in his career.
Imbd. (n.d.). Sydney Poitier: Biography. Imbd.com. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from
Piccirillo, R. (2010). Moral Adaptation in Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz.” Student Pulse:
The International Student Journal. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/204/moral-adaptation-in-primo-levis-survival-in-auschwitz
Sayre, N. (28 May 2000). The Man Who Came to Dinner. The New York Times. Retrieved April
13, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/books/00/05/28/reviews/000528.28sayret.html
The Modern World. (n.d.). The Scriptorium: Primo Levi. Themodernword.com. Retrieved April
13, 2014, from http://www.themodernword.com/scriptorium/levi.html
Many modern organizations and governments rise and fall the same way as ancient empires do. Though the warfare corporations now engaged themselves in may concern around marketing and selling—and in it, the frantic search for innovations, advertising propositions and product differentiation, branding, etc—the rule of survival remains the same. Good leaders make empires; poor ones get invaded, or bought out.
The real and competitive advantage is leadership; because in that one person lie the heart and soul where everything in the organization runs through. The leader alone must be the inspiration and the motivation of the group, where trust and camaraderie take its foothold. When a business organization goes bankrupt or loses its market, of course, we can blame that maybe their product weren’t substantive, or maybe it miscalculated its targeted buyers’ psyche, or its selling strategies failed. The same way happen when soldiers lose in the battlefield. They can lay blame on their general for employing an unsound tactic, for deploying too large offensive on the flank and too small defense on the other. Yet, on both counts, what failed is the leadership (or the lack of it) during the warfare. A small diner (such as that of Richard McDonald) can become the world’s largest food chain because of a leader (Ray Kroc) who managed it. A small band of 6,000 men can overcome an invading army of 27,000. And that’s exactly what King Henry V’s army in Agincourt accomplished. The king inspired and motivated his soldiers to fight from the heart despite their fatigue. Thus, they handed their enemy, the French Army, the most humiliating lost in history. Leaders make the difference. All else are just background noise.
But leaders come as a rarity and few realize its importance. Often, strategy, quality, and process command more attention; and as we have said, they take more blame when an organization fails. This is because leadership isn’t self-evident and it is the most ambiguous principles to learn. Leadership is the mirror of the leader, because in it rests character, wisdom and fortitude. The concept of leadership cannot be bought upon or sold; it cannot be just thought in a snap; nor can it be replaced, assembled, and recycled. Leadership springs from a man through his experiences, and ultimately, his heart and soul. It is in this respect that leadership is entirely spiritual and personal.
And it is also in this respect that I chose Marcus Aurelius as one of the finest leaders who have ever lived. Though he was not a general, nor was he a conqueror; though power was handed to him by succession, he utilized his position wisely. Deeply rooted in his Stoical belief, he knew he had to be a Caesar because the people needed one. With all the plagues ravishing within the Empire, barbarians threatening its borders, and traitors in the midst, it was crucial that a Caesar had to be the guiding light. Such role was no longer that of power or position, it was now a great responsibility that average men shirk upon when given to them. And Marcus Aurelius had to take this role—accepted this fate even as a young man.
Often called Rome’s Philosopher-Emperor, Marcus Annius Verus, was groomed for leadership early on. He was born in Rome on April 26, 121 as the son of a consul—one of the two co-chief executives of the state. His parents’ status and their connections to prominent families was the major key to his rise. In those days, Roman succession followed the old republican model of extended family interests. Emperors found their successors in either legitimate sons or heirs. This is to ensure that talent and skills are considered within the loop of things and not just blood. However, to be one’s heir, succession followed a complicated system of adoption and marriage.
The Emperor Hadrian (76-138) thus took notice of a handsome and talented youngster, Marcus, who was at the time studying diligently literature. In 136, Hadrian engaged Marcus to Ceionia, daughter of his designated successor, Aelius Commodus. But their marriage was annulled when Commodus died two years later. The new imperial successor, Titus Aurelius Antoninus, then adopted Marcus together with Lucius, Commodus’ son, as his own co-heirs.
Antoninus gave all the training Marcus had to take before becoming the emperor himself. What Antoninus taught primarily concerned on family values, and Marcus revered him in his Meditations as a spiritual leader rather than as king by divine right.
Marcus functioned under Antoninus reign as a consul and a sort of co-Emperor with imperial and tribunal powers. In turn, he married the Emperor’s daughter, Anna Galeria Faustina. Their marriage would become the foundation of a close and long-lasting partnership.
It was during these years that Marcus became interested to the study of Stoic philosophy, which stressed the calm acceptance of fate and of God’s universal plan. This teaching was evident of Marcus’ writings and the way he ran office.
Finally, Marcus succeeded Antoninus in 161 at the age of 40. Seeing that running an empire that embraced the Mediterranean was too big a role and responsibility, he took half of his powers and gave it to his adopted brother, Lucius. And the two ran the empire with equal constitutional status and authority. But their reign wouldn’t be a walk in the park with one conflict following immediately another. It began in a conflict in the east; the Parthians broke out and invaded Syria. Lucius was not a military leader, and so Marcus appointed Avidus Cassius, a Syrian general, to take his brother’s place. With Avidus, the Parthians was driven back across the border. On the other hand during the war, a plague, probably smallpox, ravaged the Empire that killed half the population of Italy, destroying agriculture, causing famine and draining the imperial treasury.
Then a powerful German tribe, the Macromanni,, invaded Danube in 168, a Roman province. With the empire already suffering loses from the plague, Marcus sold treasures from his household to complete his defenses. Both Marcus and Verus marched north to confront the German tribe. Unfortunately, Verus died a year later, and for several years, Marcus continued the war alone. But as soon the Germanic tribes were pacified, Marcus’ Syrian general, Avidus, began to rebel. Marcus hurried east to confront his traitor, but before he arrived and before the general’s treason could escalate, Avidus was assassinated.
After achieving victories in the east, Marcus went around his empire, visiting Egypt and Greece to foster educational improvements. He re-established Athens as the center of philosophy. Returning to Italy, factions of Macromanni armies broke again in the north. Marcus, already sick and war-torn, delivered a three-day public lecture in Rome on Stoic philosophy before he rode north and defeated the Germanic tribes, including the Slavic Iazyges. Shortly thereafter, Marcus died, probably from the plague in a Roman camp somewhere in the region of what is now known as Austria.
The greatest asset Marcus Aurelius had being a leader was perhaps his devotion to his philosophy, much of it in Stoicism, and his administrations was fashioned for it. For instance, he believed that within each man is an inner power. “A hegemonikon,” or interior ruler, he called it. And that governed our personal conduct in accordance with a universal law. This is inner power must be nurtured and sought upon so that we would act reasonably at all times, even in our rage and our passions. To act in accordance with the universal law is to act logically, and logical thinking is the key to self-governance.
Marcus Aurelius simply believed that logic is the harmony of the heart and of the mind. Nurturing it, using it, contemplating on it comes pure understanding—pure wisdom. And anything that springs from wisdom must be good. Nature rewards man to act in his full capacity if his actions are good.
These convictions eventually molded the way Marcus’ leadership. Stoicism’s view on fate made him accept wholeheartedly the role as a Roman Caesar; on the other hand, logic and the complete control of his own heart and mind taught him not to settle for just that. For in his hands, he realized, lies the future of Rome (and maybe the whole of Europe). In his hands rest the instrument that could enable change and reforms within the Empire. And thus, he left behind a record of accomplishment any king or emperor would envy. His reign was to be remembered in history as a period when the condition of the human race was the happiest and most prosperous. Following his dictum, he acted upon his four chief virtues—wisdom, justice, fortitude, and moderation—in governance, and in turn, living.
He was fair to everyone, even to his enemies. He tried to hear their side if he could with a conviction that they too carry reason, and he scaled reason for reason, and made judgment according to that. He banned informers, purged corruptors and punished them. He freed slaves at every opportunity, because he believed that a man’s status in this world should be what he makes of himself and not what he was born with. Those of humble birth could make a good career; such a one was Pertinax (126-193). He was a peaceful man as manifested in his writings. And he was hesitant of continuing deadly sports in the Coliseum, so he ordered gladiators to fight with blunted points.
Furthermore, Marcus followed a wise domestic policy and improved the welfare of his people. When internal problems came in the form of financial weakness for reasons of extensive military campaigns being forced upon the empire, he dealt with this problem through extensive government reforms and not the imposition of heavier taxes. And during the war in the north, still taxes weren’t raised despite the crucial need of the military; Marcus held public auctions of his own golden tableware and of his wife’s silk and gold embroidered dresses.
The people didn’t suffer during his reign, they flourished under him. Marcus endowed them schools, hospitals, and orphanages. He increased civil liberties, abolished cruel criminal laws, and figured that men, like himself, were chosen for public office according to merit instead of social position. He knew what his people needed through careful, everyday observation. And no matter who they were, no matter what their status are, Marcus thought he could learn something from them. This was the key for a leader to better himself.
It is generally viewed by historians that the decline of the Roman Empire were its unworthy Caesars that began with Marcus’ son Commodus. Commodus’ leadership failed because, unlike Marcus, he was not able to lead his own heart. He didn’t dedicate himself truly to the cultivation of himself, and thus power corrupted him and made him despotic to his people. Commodus as the new Caesar had forgotten why this role was handed to them, which great Emperors before him remembered by heart. The people needed a government that would re-unite their lands, they wanted to live within forms and traditions that maintains order. They wanted someone who would defend from war and win them the price of peace.
And in Marcus Aurelius reign, he gave this to his people. He put the people first. Even in his writing, we can read there was no ego in him being Caesar, not once did he used “I” in his Meditations. He used “you” as if but an average who had to learn something. His courage was exceptional and nothing can be more courageous to keep following what he knew what was right. Because of his mastery over his heart, he was decisive and steadfast and never faltering; if he did, Rome would not have survived the four apocalypses that literally brushed his reign. In a word, Marcus brilliant leadership somewhat postponed the Roman Empire’s decline for twenty years, which is why he is often regarded as the last true Roman Emperor.