I remember the moment well. It was many years ago when my son, now forty years old, was just a young boy of maybe eight or ten. I was just finishing up my bachelors degree in music. Jeffery and I were standing in front of our piano and he was asking me for the umpteenth time if he could take karate lessons. Tiring of the continual battle, I posed this question: “Jeffrey, why would you ever want to study the martial arts where you are learning how to bring pain and suffering into the world when you could apply yourself in the fine arts and bring happiness and goodness into the world?” Jeffrey pondered that question for a while and never asked to take karate lessons again. Instead, he began to work harder on his trombone and piano studies and eventually went to the university on a music scholarship. Many years later, Jeff reminded me of that conversation and told me of the positive impact it had made on his life.
It seems to me that we Americans have become a very self centered, selfish and mean spirited people. Everywhere you look someone is suing someone else. We no longer find peaceful ways to resolve our differences. If a neighbor walks into your yard, steps into a hole and breaks his ankle he is more likely than not to sue you. A plethora of TV ads by personal injury attorneys is evidence of the fact that people are suing one another in record numbers. When our lives don’t suit us for some reason we immediately begin looking for a scapegoat. Anything unpleasant or uncomfortable must be the fault of someone else. The problems that we encounter are, to us, insurmountable and must be rectified by someone else in order for us to have peace. None of us ever feels like we might even be partially responsible for our own problems.
It amazes me, also, the amount of hateful talk that we encounter every day and the divide that seems to be widening between people espousing different philosophies. Republicans versus Democrats, fans of this football team versus that, Roman Catholics versus Protestants. The list is endless. There was a time when those of us with differing philosophies could agree to disagree but now the airwaves and the social networks are filled with hateful talk. I have never in my life seen the level of hatred between the two political parties as we see today. And, it wouldn’t be so bad if we could be truthful in our hateful talk but we fill that mean spirited verbiage with lies and half truths.
It seems that we are all looking for something to be angry about and it’s not all politics and religion. If the person in front of you at a red light hesitates for two seconds when the light turns green expect for several horns to begin blowing. If someone does something you don’t like look for the finger to be displayed or a volley of vulgar vitriol to ensue. Then there are of course the more extreme cases; Road rage, for example, where physical violence is acted out, and these seem to be more and more common.
Violence seems to have become a way of life nowadays, it is everywhere. We read about it in the newspapers. We see it on the news. Murder, rape, beatings, spousal abuse, child abuse and on and on it goes. Occasionally, we view it as entertainment. Take the most popular movies for instance: gangsters and good guys shooting it out, beatings, road rage… And, then there are video games and popular music that promote violence as an acceptable way of life, even exciting, maybe even pleasurable, that is, as long as you are the perpetrator of the violence and not the receiver.
What has happened to us? Why are we so angry? Why have we become so mean spirited? How did we become so violent? I honestly don’t know. There is something we can do about it though and we must do something about it before it it too late. We can choose to bring peace and goodness into this world. This seems like a daunting endeavor and it is. It has taken us a long time to become the way we are and it will take a while for us to become what we ought to be, a kinder gentler people. I hope I don’t lose you by quoting scripture but The Bible puts it this way. “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” [Matthew 7:12] It seems a bit simplistic doesn’t it? But, the statement is pregnant with truth. How can we possibly imagine that someone will treat us with kindness and understanding if we don’t treat them that way? Why should they? Goodness begets goodness and kindness begets kindness. As I told Jeffrey, Why do you want to bring pain into the world when you could be bringing goodness? And, guess what, when you begin working toward bringing goodness and kindness into the lives of others, goodness and kindness will come back to you.
I am this day issuing a call to goodness and kindness. We needn’t be so self centered. I ask that we as a people begin to think more about the wellbeing of others. I ask that we seek peaceful solutions to our differences. I ask that when trouble or suffering comes into our lives that we don’t jump to the conclusion that someone else or some other outside force must be responsible. I ask that we enter into more civil dialogue with others and that we focus on the truth. I ask that we seek ways to turn off our anger toward one another and that we try to find ways to bring more love and kindness into our world. I ask that we avoid turning to violence and learn to deal peacefully with others. I ask that we start looking for better more wholesome forms of entertainment rather than that which is filled with violence.
I don’t know about you but I am thinking about working toward a gentler and kinder version of me during 2013. I am going to stop looking for the bad in people and instead begin looking for the good. Maybe that person in front of me at the traffic light is having a rough day. I’m not going to compound that by blowing my horn when he or she hesitates at the green light. If I slip on a wet floor at the grocery store and twist my ankle my first thought is not going to be to sue them for neglect, it will be to think of how silly it was of me not to pay attention to my surroundings. I will not return anger for anger. I will not act out violently. As far as I am able, I will love my neighbor as myself and seek for the good in all things.
I hope those of you who read this will take a look around you and see if there are ways that you can, through your behavior, bring some goodness and kindness into our world. If enough of us will begin treating one another with respect, if we will be kind and look for goodness, this world will become a better place for all of us.