It is hard to believe that another year has passed. So much has happened during this past year. Our world continues to be challenged by the on-going threats of terrorism and violence. Thousands of families around the world continue to mourn, thousands of children are parentless. As a nation, we are moving forward despite the on-going conflict in Iraq. Hopefully, we will continue to work more aggressively toward peaceful alternatives in Iraq and the Middle East and to protect world peace and our courageous men and women in our armed services.
As the New Year begins, there is a profound awareness that we need to act and live differently.
Unfortunately, hate crimes are up. Teenage violence is escalating. The use of heroin is escalating in all quarters of our communities, among all ages.
Abuse, scandal, inept religious leadership and corruption have racked the hearts of many faith filled communities across the country. The voiceless continue to cry out and have their voices fall on deaf ears. The bureaucracy continues to be more focused on procedure and regulation than on empowering people to freedom and self-reliance.
The President's "Faith Based" initiative to support religious groups doing charitable and human service work is potentially a dangerous and misguided effort to excuse the federal and local government from shouldering responsibility for the genuinely poor and needy among us (who are growing in epidemic numbers).
However, in spite of this landscape, as the New Year begins there is so much to be grateful for, so much to hope for and still so much that needs to be changed and/or improved.
Each holiday season, I am amazed at the depth of people's generosity, from the ever growing outreach of Charlie Russo's Christmas Magic to the countless efforts of our local churches, temples, schools and community organizations that pitch in to touch people in need. The many hands and hearts that come together are breathtaking and at times overwhelming. I only wish we could bottle that spirit of generosity and tap into it throughout the year.
People genuinely give of their treasure, even though these are difficult economic times. Equally impressive are the growing number of people stepping forward to give of their time and talent. So many charitable efforts are effective and successful because of the generosity of people's personal, human gifts that cannot be assigned a price tag.
This year I have seen first hand the exceptional generosity of some local physicians, dentists and lawyers who went the distance and then some. Also the list of retired teachers who are making a profound difference, giving their time regularly to work with some very hard to reach young men and women is growing.
This has been a year during which many professionals have been blemished by people who have fallen from grace. The Times Beacon Record has had a long tradition of celebrating and honoring people who have made a difference. Each year "the best of the best" are honored on these pages. This year was no exception.
At a time when young people need heroes to look up to, our community is especially blessed. There were two people honored this year that I am privileged to know personally. The Honorable Thomas Spota, the District Attorney for Suffolk County and Mr. Raymond Manzoni, a local businessman. I cite these men not because of their civic contributions, although the list for each man is endless.
Rather, I cite them as heroes for our young people because of their character and integrity, their commitment to justice and improving the quality of life for all. Their commitment to family and their faith has not been compromised by their commitment to public service.
As I was thinking about this New Year, a few things came to mind. In light of this past year with so many acts of intolerance, violence and disrespect (Mepham hazing, Farmingville fire), I have become very sensitive to the lack of tolerance and respect for those among us who are different, whether it's because of color, religion, sexual orientation, immigration status or economic status. In many quarters, the intolerance is not overt, but rather very subtle and infectious. Every semester in my sociology class at Suffolk Community College, my students share horrific stories of hate, discrimination and blatant prejudice.
So my first recommendation for the New Year is that we work harder at respecting all people, no matter what their race, color, creed, religion or sexual orientation. Respect costs nothing. It shapes everything. There is no need to gossip or speak disrespectfully to anyone. People in public service (including religious people) need to be more respectful. Those in need of those services need to be more respectful. Respect should be freely given without condition or judgment.
We all have to work harder at being less judgmental of the human circumstances and situations that we don't understand. We should never judge a book by its' cover. We should never judge another by the color of one's skin, the clothes one wears, the piercings or tattoos one has or the lifestyle one embraces. If we judge less and respect more, the violence that is infecting our communities will be substantially reduced.
My second recommendation is that we need to work on patience. We always seem to be in a hurry to get to no place fast. In our racing, we sometimes fail to appreciate the richness around us. We miss so much. Our technology and active lives are cheating us of so many significant connections with people. Some of us are missing out on some important moments with our children. Others are missing opportunities to strengthen relationships with friends and loved ones. The possibility for new connections, new opportunities and new friendships gets lost in the race to do everything yesterday. We all need to slow down and smell the flowers before they die.
My third recommendation is that we need to work harder on compassionate accountability. The unfortunate behavior at Mepham High School this year has caused most thinking people to raise hard questions about responsibility and accountability. We need to forever destroy the wall of silence concept and hold people of all ages accountable for the choices they make.
In doing that, we need to think outside the box and call our teenagers to a higher standard of respect and compassion for themselves and for others.
My last recommendation is that we all need to work harder at giving of our substance and not of our excess and to be a people of gratitude. There is not a charity alive that would not accept a material donation, big or small, but this recommendation is not about giving materially. Americans are known for their material generosity. We all could work harder at sharing our talents more creatively and courageously.
It is clear to me that the government is never going to get the formula right. It will continue to set people up for failure and enable people to be dependent on social welfare rather than enabling them to be more self-reliant. Welfare reform was supposed to transform or at least positively reconfigure the social landscape for the poor. The poor are voiceless. We need to be their voice.
We know that life is not the same. We have been painfully reminded that we are all vulnerable and not invincible. All life is sacred, but temporary. We will not live forever. Thus, whatever we can do to make life better, we need to do it now. We may never pass this way again.
So as the New Year unfolds, think about it, pray about it and act positively! Realize that you can make a difference that counts. Happy New Year!