On Saturday, September 11 at 5pm, a few hundred people gathered at an ocean front church for a candlelight memorial service honoring all those killed on 9/11. They came from every walk of life and every life path. They were young and old. They sang songs and listened, but most importantly, they remembered.
As they entered the church, there was a book of remembrance where people could stop and inscribe the name of someone lost on that fateful day. Over twenty-five names were listed. During the prayer of the faithful, each name was spoken out loud by someone in the congregation.
At the end of the service, a meditation song was played. The names were read out again as people's candles were lit. Then, two by two, the candlelight walk for peace began and made its' way to the ocean. Everyone surrounded the large globed candle as the presider prayed for peace and an end to violence, war and terrorism. People left the ocean in silence, leaving their candles in a circle.
The people who gathered that night were visibly moved. The emotion was intense. The mood was reflective and hopeful.
As I mixed among the crowd that had gathered, I realized that terrorism wears many faces. It is not merely the senseless acts of violence and destruction of property and human life. There are also infectious behaviors that perpetuate hate and bigotry.
We live in a nation that prides itself on freedom for all. We live in a nation that is grounded in human diversity and respect for people's differences.
However, we know that we do not practice what we preach or what our constitution guarantees. Since 9/11, the incidences of hate and discrimination have escalated tremendously. Violence around color and religion is on the rise. By our silence when these injustices occur, we are saying it is okay.
It is never okay to hate and act on that negative feeling. It is not fair to generalize because a person is from the Middle East that he or she is guilty of terrorism or that all people from the Middle East should be suspect.
It is not right for children to taunt and unmercifully tease children from the Middle East. Adults who sanction such behavior or turn a deaf ear are wrong. Children are not born to hate or discriminate. They learn these attitudes and behaviors from adults.
It is troubling to see so much meanness afoot. School has been in session only a few weeks. A little third grader was recently suspended for breaking another third grader's nose. Seemingly, TJ started teasing AJ. He was making fun and calling him names. AJ did not respond, so TJ came up behind him and put AJ in a headlock. In an effort to get loose, AJ hit TJ in the face forcefully with his elbow and broke his nose.
Both boys were suspended. Unfortunately, both sets of parents made excuses for the behavior. Neither school nor both sets of parents really addressed the heart of this conflict, which was the violence and the intense teasing.
That same day, but in the evening, a group of college coeds were celebrating the beginning of the new school year in a local pub. As they were taking leave some harsh words were exchanged and fists started to fly. The police were called and the guilty parties fled leaving a trail of broken glass and some drops of blood.
Upon inquiry, the fight erupted over nonsense. Instead of trying to calmly talk out the conflict, fists were the first line of defense.
During the first week of classes, I asked my students if they ever witnessed a fight at the clubs and pubs they frequent. Most indicated that every weekend they witness some kind of violent altercation, not just among young men but also among young women.
The point that my students made was that it wasn't just an occasional fistfight, but rather a regular Friday or Saturday night occurrence.
Since 9/11 many more people are on edge. However, these senseless acts of terrorism do not justify the increased violence in our communities and in our schools. Violence begets violence. Too many adults make excuses and sanction violent behavior. Whether it is inappropriate violence on a ball field or parental rage that leads to violence in the stands, our children are getting a very mixed message.
We need to lead by example. It starts with simple things: how to speak to one another, how to speak to our children. If children constantly hear us using vulgar four letter words in public and in private, they will get the message that that kind of language is okay.
Profanity directed at people or merely being used as an expression of frustration is surely not appropriate coming from adults in any public arena.
We have to stop making excuses and raise the standard of acceptable public deportment to a level that is respectable. Teachers, coaches, law enforcement professionals, public officials and human service workers need to present themselves with a consistent level of respect and integrity. Many young people look up to these professionals.
As adults, we should not be afraid to model positive, non-violent behavior. We need to hold each other accountable. We should not be afraid to hold our children accountable, especially when they choose to act with violent and hateful behavior.
Peace is not merely the absence of war and violence, but also the presence of justice. Justice in simple terms is defined by how respectfully we treat others.