Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Month: July, 2016

Two Stages, Two Women

On May 21, 1919, following years of efforts by thousands of suffragettes, the House of Representatives passed the 19th amendment. Two weeks later, the Senate passed the amendment.  On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, allowing the amendment to pass its final hurdle of obtaining the agreement of three-fourths of the states. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification on August 26, 1920. A mere 27 years later a young girl was born in Chicago. She went on to become Secretary of State herself. And last night, Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination of her party for the office of President of the United States in Philadelphia.

Hillary Clinton

Two hundred seventy-five miles away in Providence, a 19-year-old was speaking before 6,000 people on the importance of education for young women across the globe. This young woman had been speaking out for the rights of girls to be educated since she was 11 years old. Her father owned a school in the Swat Valley in Pakistan, and while living under the control of the Taliban, this girl began a blog for the BBC’s Urdu service. On October 9, 2012, while riding home from school, two masked men boarded her bus, asked specifically for Malala Yousafzai by name and proceeded to shoot her in the head at point-blank range. The bullet traveled through her head to her neck and then her shoulder. Remarkably, she did not die. In critical condition, she was transferred for treatment to a hospital which specialized in military injuries in Birmingham, UK. In 2013, after being released from the hospital, she began the Malala Fund “to bring awareness to the social and economic impact of girls’ education and to empower girls to raise their voices, to unlock their potential and to demand change.” On December 10, 2014, Malala accepted the Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the youngest recipient of the prize.

Malala

Two women on two different stages on the same night. As I sat between my daughter and son, listening to Malala speak, I couldn’t help but be moved by the significance of the evening. Eleven months ago, my children lost their mother, my wife, to cancer and I could only think of how proud she would have been of them for being there in the audience listening to Malala. How they would have gone on and on with her about sexism in America and around the world; how each of them, strong in their own right, would have enjoyed talking with their mother about the importance of an education and the weight of the evening. We went out to dinner after the speech. We talked for over an about the value of believing in yourself and the significance of education. The conversation was witty, intelligent, and sophisticated. I can’t help but think that both Malala and my wife would have been pleased. I am so proud.

As Hillary Clinton said last night, “When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.” No woman should be forced to think less of themselves than any man and no society should consider women an inferior subgroup. And no woman should ever be quieted for speaking out against what they believe are wrongs in the world that need to be corrected. Regardless of your political position, last night was a night for the ages as two women took two stages and promised to bring change to the country and the world. As Malala said last night, “The terrorists wanted to silence me forever. They made a really big mistake.”

 

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Sick of the Sickness

Once again, the earth has been rocked from its axis by the deaths of our neighbors. It is becoming harder and harder to maintain a list in my head of these atrocities. Humans are finding ever more inventive ways of killing one another. In 2001, no one had ever thought to use an airplane as a weapon. Now we have trucks racing through crowds of people to kill them. And I worry we have become numb to the violence. We offer thoughts and prayers for a short time and then move on to the next act of violence forgetting the cost of the violence on those left behind. I’m sick over this.

I am also sick; sick of the violence, sick of the heartache, sick of the pain caused daily by anger, callousness, and hatred. The hatred we see across our country and the world has led us to a dangerous precipice. There are those in our country who yearn for the day when we can raise up arms against our government. There are those in our country who cannot wait for a race war to start. There are those in our country who shoot first and never stop to ask questions later. There are those in our country who no longer engage in civil discourse. There are those in our country who base their freedom on religious distinctions or skin color or geographic location or gender or age or any other subcategory of which we don’t find ourselves belonging. The same can be said about the world. Religious differences, nations of origin, and other random segregations pit us against one another. I am sick of it.

So what is the answer, because if we continue down this dangerous path, we are headed toward a breakdown of civilization here and across the world, and that never happens without millions dying in war? We have a presidential nominee who welcomes torture and xenophobia. The world has gotten smaller through technology and transportation, and yet we seem to be drifting farther and farther apart. Nationalism is the concept that your country is the best simply because of an accident of being born in a particular place. We cannot let this be our sole guiding principle. Neither can we exclude others because they believe in a different god than we do. Wouldn’t it be nice if God, if there is a god, finally reached out to us and set the record straight? Imagine the clarity we could glean from that. Nations that exist due to arbitrary lines on a map might see one another as neighbors instead of threats. We have this one world, and we are doing everything we can to destroy it. What will be the result of such acts on its inhabitants? It can’t end well. I am sick.

Carl Sagan wrote about our little planet based on a photograph of the Earth sent back by Voyager 1 as it left our corner of the solar system. It was about 4 billion miles from the earth at the time, and the Earth is a pale blue dot in the photograph. From that distance, there are no prejudices, there are no guns, and there are no countries. It is John Lennon’s Imagine in a photograph. How can we internalize these concepts? My dog knew love and only love. Why can’t we be as smart as my dog? I’m sick.

The sickness of prejudice, any prejudice, is a learned sin. We are not born that way. The hatred and anger we see in the world is kindled by an epistemic closure. We only listen to those with whom we already agree. Debate and conversation are dead. We answer disagreements with guns and claim to have stood our ground. We have a Congress that cannot agree to keep guns away from terrorists or fight the Zika virus but feel vindicated as they leave on a seven-week vacation. We have the most divided Congress in history. Obstructionism has been taken to a new art form by this Congress as a way of stymying anything this president puts forth. No amount of spin can paint this as anything other than sick. I’m sick to my stomach.

Everyone battles their own problems in life. Perhaps if we stopped to acknowledge that and give each other the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions and anger, we might forestall the hatred permeating society. Perhaps if we stopped to acknowledge that we are all in this together, we can put the earth back on its axis and prevent us from slipping down that slope toward more sickness. Our health starts with each of us. Look inside to see the spots of hatred and purge them. Take the stump out of your eye before complaining about the splinter in your neighbor’s. It starts with you and me.

Enough Hatred

There are times in one’s life when we may feel that the world is coming apart at the seams. Life is difficult, and the reasons for our strife are complicated. Likewise, the remedies always seem burdensome and untimely. However, there is no excuse for us not trying to make the world a better place. Our children deserve it, and we should demand it for them.

For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love – this is an old rule. –The Pali Canon, Twin Verses, no.5

This has been a week of such strife. The murder of black citizens at the hands of law enforcement, the assassination of law enforcement by a heavily armed citizen, and the vitriol expressed throughout social media has done nothing to heal society’s wounds. The naïve claim that love is the answer. And as simplistic as it may seem, they are correct. We should listen to them. Listen to the children who know no racism, no hatred. The comedian Denis Leary stated it best when he said, “Racism isn’t born, folks. It’s taught. I have a 2-year-old son. Know what he hates? Naps. End of list.”

Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins. –Proverbs

We look at the police and see their militarization. We look at American society and see a citizenry armed to the teeth. One begets the other, and this arms race sees no resolution other than a conflict between sides. Gun zealots seem to crave a chance to take up arms against a perceived tyranny of government. This is not unlike religious zealots hoping for an end of days within their lifetime. It is irrational and dangerous.

My life, my real life, was in danger, and not from anything other people might do but from the hatred I carried in my own heart. –James Baldwin

The result of all of this hatred is more hatred. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Politicians will make the most of this dissension and attempt to be the answer rather than listening and hearing the needs of their constituents. Where one is hurting, all are hurting. We must try to tamp down the anger and recognize what we all have in common. Under the skin, we are all the same. We are each composed of muscle, nerves, and bone. And a high powered firearm will tear through all of those components, never stopping to see the color of our skin. The carrying of firearms openly in public only caused greater confusion for law enforcement this week and did nothing to stop a deranged shooter. The “thoughts and prayers” of politicians didn’t do anything to bring back the dead or heal the wounded. Some of those politicians who spoke out in support of police officers ignored the reasons for the protests. Indeed, some blamed the protesters for inciting the violence, completely ignoring the reasons for the protests.

Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds. –Henry Adams

Police departments throughout the country need to understand the causes of the anger and do their part to rid themselves of less than exemplary officers. The chief of police in Dallas said this week that his officers need to be perfect 100% of the time. He’s correct and is right in expecting nothing less from his officers. Nothing, nothing warrants the execution of police officers. And nothing warrants the execution of people of color by police at the levels we see year after year. Again, the militarization of police forces is being done in response to the ever more lethal weaponry obtained by citizens. No citizen needs an AR-15. There are no reasonable, rational arguments to support the ownership of these weapons by the public. I’ve heard them all and none of them hold up. On the other hand, I know people who have lost loved ones to the carnage that these weapons can inflict on the human body, whether they be six-year-olds in their classroom or innocent movie goers in a theater.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy. –Saint Francis of Assisi

Hatred will solve no problem. Anger will only cause grief. Our country has seen enough grief this week and this year. Let us put aside our prejudices and see those around us as simply people with their own problems and their own issues. Everyone is struggling with something. You cannot see it on their face, but it is there. Give them the benefit of your kindness and we will create the society our children expect of us. Enough with the hatred. Call me naïve and I will thank you.