“Be the change you wish to see” – These treasured thoughts of Gandhi resonate daily as I try to extract goodness from the minutes of interchange among high school adolescents who seem to look to the Kardashians or the NFL for insight and authority on how to live life to achieve success. While it is more than understandable to take refuge in a level of fantasy rather than strive and dream for oneself as a teenager, things should begin to change approaching adulthood.
Many, if not most of us, have been on the wrong side of the tracks at some point in our lives. Maybe it was a family falling-out, or maybe a string of evil omens that brought one seeming catastrophe after another, but at some point on our life-path, we probably learned something very significant from loss of one sort or another or many simultaneously. And that is how there should be at some life-point, a realization that “we” and “they” are not really mutually exclusive. And when that realization did take true root in our minds and hearts, it became infinitesimally clear to us that connections exist among our thoughts, our actions, our demeanor, our presence and our influence on others as well as ourselves.
I don’t like to destroy. It annoys me when a high school boy picks up a pencil in the hall and, with the musculature of Stan Laurel convinces himself to be The Hulk as he cracks it in two and throws it on the floor. That pencil, even broken in two, would be a treasure for children in a country without resources in education. Something jostles deep inside when someone throws a half-eaten sandwich with the rest of his/her lunch in the hallway for the custodian to clean – “After all, it’s his job and we pay taxes.” The sense of “being owed and entitled” can indeed be an impediment to real progress for the teenage personality. But what is worse is when this comes from the adult community, caregivers, parents, teachers, administrators and community leaders. After all, how can you shake your heads with the ignorance from kids when “rational” adults are predisposed to notions of hatred, bias, prejudice and yes, even murder?
I may not be the most dogmatic of believers, but I appreciate the ideology of the Christian tradition – that of following the words and deeds of Christ in the Beatitudes. I try to be a peacemaker. I try to look into another person’s eyes and think what it might be like to really “be – the other.” (Because, I believe, in essence, I am!) Having been without a house to call home for a time meant that I was able to feel and understand the fear, the inadequacy, the failure as a mother, as breadwinner, as provider for a small family. Watching your child suffer and being or at least feeling helpless carves out any semblance of faith and trust you might have in others – be they family, friends, in self or some God that is said to exist.
Yet, time passes. And we pass with it..or without it. We surrender and succumb or we persevere and persist – despite it all. We still look for answers amid increasing questions. And while there seem to be fewer solutions as the days dissipate into the heavens, we are left with little but the prayers and our own souls which seek connection with something more powerful than us.
But power comes in different sizes and disguises. There is a power in glorifying destruction, singing praises to bombs as they burst in mid-air, and another kind of power in questioning if bombs bursting is truly the only solution to problems of discord, apathy and antipathy.
We don’t know those answers, but we do know one thing. That we have choice. We have choice in our beliefs and models upon which we can at least attempt to adjust and align our lives. With this in mind, I take students who show interest to events that promote peace. On Tuesday, October 22 on Long Island, we again met Kathy Kelly, peace activist and three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and she spoke so convincingly, so eloquently and so courageously about continuing initiatives for peace despite the movements to the contrary. These movements are overt, from commentators, elected (oftentimes, I am speechless as to how and moreover WHO they actually get chosen to represent!) officials whose proper title is “public servant” to the covert, “hatred-under-wraps” colleagues who work right alongside of you. (So this explains the look of pity I so often have imagined on the faces of many to whom I propose issues of non-violent conflict resolution, seeking understanding and dialogue).
In response to the angry retort of the colleague who proclaimed to me this week, “We need to blow them up off the face of the earth or it will be the end of us. It is our survival!“, I have little choice but to repeat that this viewpoint of violence is a choice of self-annihilation. And while I still don’t know if her words are true or not, I can only speak for me and the choice I am led by the example of Someone who was put to death for refusing to be a part of violence. (And others who have followed in His Path.) It is a choice that must be made in full conscience. Non-violence, essentially and existentially, is the only way.