It seems as if I have written on this subject more than anything since beginning this blog several years ago. One because of my own affinity with working with young people and when their lives are cut short senselessly, my heart bleeds for them. It’s not just a life that ends, but hope, creativity, future, imagination, and so much more that they hadn’t had the chance to share with the world in the fullest. Secondly, though, is our obsession with violence in our society and culture that we never quite come to grips with, showing our own immaturity on the world stage with the thinking that violence and acts of violence can somehow declare us victor or solve problems, never quite seeing beyond the immediate choice that is made to pull a trigger.
I happened to catch an interview with a Congressman this morning. His name and location I can’t remember, but his comment has stuck with me throughout the day in reflecting on the events in Parkland, Florida at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. He had commented that we are an exceptional country. We have the strongest military. We have the best people. He seemed to go on and on about our exceptionalism and yet, it all stands in the face of yet another tragedy. If we can do ourselves any favors, as a country, we can stop using such language to describe ourselves.
If there is anything I’ve learned, in spending so much time working with people, it’s that if you have to spend time trying to convince others how exceptional you are you probably are not. When we live with such a mantra, where even our greatest strength is military, over time we convince ourselves of the illusion that somehow we can’t learn from others, that somehow we know better than every other kid on the block and they should look to me to see how to do things. It casts a glaze over our eyes in the way we see things and prevents us from the possibility and potential of finally looking at ourselves so that we can go more deeply into the real problems we face as a country and society. When you convince yourself of your exceptionalism there’s no room for growth. You’ve decided you’ve already reached the promised land and the promised land is right here.
I started looking at the names and faces of the next seventeen people to add to the list of this ongoing violence. Their smiles. Imagining their potential. Their innocence in the face of tragedy, most likely not even knowing what had happened to them with others now trying to pick up pieces that can almost never be brought together again. It’s the unfortunately reality of such events and honestly, there’s nothing exceptional about it.
I simply wrote yesterday upon hearing the news that I’m grateful that I grew up in a different time when such acts weren’t even imagined. The tragic reality only fuels the reaction it brings, somehow thinking arming more people, threatening even more violence, is going to somehow resolve the issue. I couldn’t even begin to fathom a day when I walked into school needing to go through security. Yet, listening to students speak in interviews, they think nothing of it. There in lies even more proof that we refuse to look at ourselves. We’ll simply continue to arm ourselves with our defense, our fear, our lack of compassion and empathy, our ideology, and unfortunately our politics, which more often than not only fuels the problem and is fed through the problem. The entire system currently feeds on division, which, in and of itself, invokes violence in various ways.
It is rare that empires fall at the hands of outsiders. More often than not empires fall from within. They divide themselves and fall. Quite frankly because they lose their sense of humanity, a logical outcome of thinking your exceptional. As heinous acts of violence continue to ensue our landscape, roads and bridges collapse, inequality grows more deeply, schools often failing their students or unable to challenge them, and political divides deepen, debt climbs out of control, there will come a day of reckoning of just what it means to be exceptional or great. In the end we simply lie to ourselves and over time believe the lie while the world watches.
It’s going to take the young minds and hearts to steer this ship in a new direction, but if we continue to insist on taking such lives, not only in schools but on our own street corners, there will be no future to envision. The illusion of exceptionalism has been smashed for some time, but the more we cling to it and try to convince ourselves otherwise is yet another day lost to imagining what could be. When Martin Luther King, Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963 he said, “Now is the time to make justice a reality for all God’s children. It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment.” Yet, despite the times of great injustice that continue, he still dreamed and so must we. There is an urgency of this moment in which we are given, either to once again get swallowed up in needing to be exceptional and ignoring our deeper human problems or rising to the occasion as he demanded, to dream a better way of life, not only for ourselves but for the generations who will inherit what we have done.
There is an urgency in the moment to seek a larger and yet common vision for who we are, that rises above guns, politics, and money. There is an urgency in the moment because we owe it to the current 17 and the countless others that stand in the cross-hairs of violence each day in this country. In spite of it all, we must, and must we must, dare to dream lest others die in vain. We need the necessary freedom to break free from our way of thinking that we have become paralyzed by it all, powerless to change. We have the gifts and not through the walls of Congress or the White House, but in our very hearts to imagine better days. It doesn’t mean a naïve look, where all is perfect. That’s how we got here in the first place. Rather, a looking at what we have allowed and become through the eyes of humility that we’re not done yet and all we can do is keep our eye on the prize, the promised land. “This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning, ‘My country, ‘tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died. Land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountain side, let freedom ring.’ And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.”