Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy birthday Adolf Hitler, happy birthday to you.
Wait a second. Something about that doesn’t sound… right.
I was 11 years old and scrolling through YouTube, looking for something to keep me entertained as I aimlessly drew in my sketch pad. “Happy Birthday Video”, it was labelled. An unsuspecting title, nothing to be wary of.
So I clicked play.
I distinctly remember my eyes widening in shock, as I watched a girl, no older than 18, sing a rendition of the popular birthday song in dedication to one of history’s most despicable tyrants.
Hitler was bad. He was a murderer.
But to the girl in the YouTube video, he was simply a misunderstood individual. This revelation most certainly prompted me onto a shaky path of doubt; if some people believed Hitler wasn’t evil, then what other conflicting opinions existed in the world? If we could not even find a sense of commonality over what is right and what is wrong, how could our society justify law and punishment?
To say this was far too conceptually mature for a child of just 11 is an understatement, but nonetheless, my curiosity won over. At that moment, I chose to dive into a world of contradictions and hate, none of which I had any prior exposure to. I saw human beings treated like animals, children unwillingly forced into combat, and workplace conditions that could barely be described as humane. Yet through all of this, one question stayed prominent in the forefront of my mind, “Why can’t people realize what they’re doing is wrong?”. You can chalk it up to childlike innocence or naivety, but no part of my mind could rationalize such hateful actions.
I’ll admit, that feeling of confusion, of uncertainty, did not leave me for better, and I struggled to regain my sense of confidence in the world around me. Growing up, I was raised in a family that had distinct opinions on right versus wrong and good versus evil. But that quintessential Saturday morning prompted my challenging of those beliefs, and however frightening at the time, I now understand how incredibly valuable it was.
People always say that the best way to truly understand something is through experience, which is why wisdom and age so frequently go hand in hand. That being said, at 11 years old, I hadn’t had many opportunities to experience life first-hand, so I based my understanding of the world on what I was told at home. Yes, hearing your parents tell you, “this is right, and this is not,” is one way to learn. But after watching that video, I didn’t need to take their words at face value because I learned for myself how contrasting the beliefs of some were in comparison to what I had always been taught.
That girl in the YouTube video singing “Happy Birthday” to Hitler was wrong. But maybe someone out there thinks she’s right. It’s definitely not me. It’s probably not you. But it’s someone.
And even though I don’t know who that someone is, I do know that seven years ago, I had an experience. An experience that changed me and shaped who I am today. It could have been something that left me confused and struggling to understand a rudimentary moral dilemma. An experience that changed me and shaped who I am today. But instead, I learned from it, I grew from it, and I can now confidently say that I have the courage of my own convictions.