No, I’m not struggling with whether to run another race, another marathon, another Boston. That’s easy. As the old saying (sort of) goes, “Illegitimi non carborundum”, the old mock-Latin phrase (that I’m sure makes every Latin scholar cringe) that translates, roughly, “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” I’ll be back, so long as I can navigate next year’s sure-to-be-overcrowded registration process.
I’m struggling with how to frame a message going forward. What do we carry forward?
The high-levels are easy. Relish our freedom. Don’t cower to cowards. Heroes are among us. Help your fellow man. Donate to the cause.
The specifics are hard. What exactly do we do on a day-to-day basis?
Everyone recognizes that last week was surrealistic. The way things played out on television seemed like a movie, but this was real; real crimes, real death and destruction, real cops – and damn good ones at that, who deserve our thanks for doing what they do every day, never knowing what they’ll encounter. The cheering that arose last Friday night as they rolled out of Watertown with the suspect in custody added to the surrealism, people who’d usually complain about getting nicked for running a stoplight were awakened to the true value of the first responders among them. And if the whole sequence of events wasn’t surreal enough on a public level, it became so personally when my phone rang the next day not just from the local newspaper, which I expected, but also from the Associated Press. It hammered home the global significance of what we’d just lived through, eye-witnesses, with front-row seats to history.
But the surrealism of last week is now history. Amidst the debates about prosecution, punishment, and the inevitable, “why didn’t we catch these guys earlier?” (seriously?), we witness continued heartwarming responses to calls for assistance, the honor of memorials and deserved recognitions, and stories of spontaneously assembled runs and races nationwide in defiant support of Boston and our freedom. Still, we ask, what really is next?
Security was beefed up at the London Marathon. No incidents occurred, thankfully. Nor would one expect such an incident. Security can be enhanced at every future big city event, or even at smaller events. Chances are good, no incidents will occur at any given one. But no matter how good the security is, our free and open society is a soft target, and a determined individual can likely find a way to once again wreak havoc. This isn’t to say that enhanced security shouldn’t be pursued, but we need to look further.
I had an interesting conversation with a cousin of mine today about the events of last week. We found ourselves in agreement with the simple statement that anyone who thinks they know the answer probably doesn’t understand the depth of the problem.
After Newtown, we rushed to push through enhanced limitations on weaponry. Much of the focus seems entirely logical and is likely worth pursuing (please, no NRA hate mail, this is a rhetorical discussion). But banning any given device doesn’t remove it from the field of play. A determined individual can likely find a way… So we target the human side, and call for universal background checks, again, something that seems entirely logical and is likely worth pursuing. But any sort of check is only as good as the data that you check against, and in order to create that data, you run into some major problems, such as data that simply doesn’t exist, and data that can’t be made available for such checks without violating doctor-patient confidentiality, just to name a few issues. Again, like enhanced event security, this isn’t to say that these aren’t ideas worthy of study and pursuit, but when we look deeper at the source of the problem, we need to look further for a solution.
How does someone develop the hatred to shoot school children? Or movie-goers? Or bomb a marathon – which we now know wasn’t really targeted because it was a marathon, since apparently Times Square was next, but just because there were people there to hurt in a visible way? Maiming and killing innocents? How does someone develop the mindset that any sort of violence is acceptable?
If you watch the eleven-o’clock news, you’re treated more often than not to a spectacularly sensationalist view of the world. If it bleeds, it leads. After a while, you come to believe that evil lurks outside your door and that everyone you don’t know should be feared. If you don’t submerse yourself in that eleven-o’clock world, and instead focus on what you see around you every day, you come to believe that while evil certainly exists, most of the people in your midst are generally good at heart and are trying to make their way in this world as are you. You might quarrel with them on their driving habits or the like, but in the end, they’re on your side.
I believe in that view of the world. We saw it in action after evil surfaced in Boston. Save two deranged young men, everyone else was on the same side of the equation between good and evil. Many of them didn’t even know it until that moment. Many had lived on the side that believed all around them was danger. They saw a powerful message after the powerful blasts: all around is not danger, almost all around is in fact good.
If indeed you are to come to believe what you immerse yourself in, it follows that you can influence what you will believe by actively choosing what to immerse yourself in. And as a parent, you have the immense power to shape the next generation by exerting your influence here. You can make simple choices.
There’s an organization called “Freecycle” (www.freecycle.org) that is dedicated to reducing waste by facilitating the act of giving away useful stuff rather than throwing it away. A couple days after the bombing, an individual posted an offer to give away a video game cartridge that by his own admission even his teen-aged son didn’t like to play because of its extreme violence. I privately wrote back and suggested that perhaps that was one item that should indeed make it to the waste stream, here was once small chance to reduce the culture of violence that numbs people to its impact, makes it seem normal. His response was not only unpleasant, it smacked of denial.
I’m not saying that violent video games are the cause of terrorist bombings. Nor am I saying that I’ve never played – and enjoyed – a good shoot’em’up here and there (and survived my teenage pyrotechnic phase, where my buddy and I would build model battleships…and then blow them up). I’m simply saying that we are all products of the world around us, and we can and should influence that world to make ourselves and our kids better, kinder, move loving products of the world, products that are horrified at the thought of inhuman and unspeakable acts and therefore prone not to do them. Or even better, to recognize those amongst us who seem prone to do them, and have the courage to intervene to get them help. Let’s not forget that the bombing suspects (both the living and dead versions) were radicalized by the material they read online produced by people who believe it’s acceptable to do this kind of unthinkable stuff. Read enough of it, and you start to believe it.
Choose another path. Choose to focus on the goodness among us. Focus your children on that path. In the interfaith service that followed the bombings, Cardinal Sean O’Malley stated, “This Patriots’ Day shakes us out of our complacency and indifference and calls us to focus on the task of building a civilization that is based on love, justice, truth and service.” (The full text of his message is available here.) Or, on a note closer to home, my pastor noted last Sunday morning that evil does exist, and it will win a few battles, but love will win the war. Make that choice.
An unfortunate post-script: In my last posting I stated that all the folks I knew came through unscathed. Sadly I learned a few days ago that that was not the case. A woman with whom I work on an outside project, her son, and her husband were all wounded, with injuries ranging up to a lost foot. The horror was thus brought home. My heart and prayers go out to them.