Does being a human being imply bearing witness?

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Many people argue that bearing witness is an important component of being human, but there is considerable disagreement over the requirement to do so. Though the concept of bearing witness had been known previously, it began to be used widely after the Second World War and is especially associated with testimonies that Holocaust survivors wrote. In particular, the works of Elie Wiesel, beginning with Night, have been influential in stimulating discussions of the importance or obligation to bear witness.

A witness can be any person who was present at any kind of occasion. Many people are most familiar with the idea of a witness presenting testimony in court concerning a legal matter. Bearing witness may be used to refer to speaking or writing about a traumatic event or experience at which one was present or participated. Wiesel survived years of imprisonment in two Nazi concentration camps. He has noted that it took him ten years before he could write in a meaningful way about the experience.

For many people, speaking out or writing is a crucial activity that both brings public attention to horrible acts that people committed against each other, in part with the hope that doing so will help prevent future events of that kind. Bearing witness may take other forms, such as painting, music, or other artistic expressions. It is also an element of memorializing in any form, which many people argue is a uniquely human attribute. Not every person is capable of making public statements or expressions, however, because one aspect of trauma is silencing their voice, and having the burden of silence lifted may take a long time or not happen at all.

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