Just before the start of school last Friday, a woman entered a home across the street from our campus and found three dead bodies. She left and called the police, who found two more bodies. We heard the news in a special assembly where our head of school told us that five people had lost their lives in the house that morning. I went to the faculty lounge and wept.
I did not know the people, nor the circumstances of their death. I was weeping for the state of our world: where someone can walk into a home and kill five people before breakfast, where a street scuffle turns to murder (in self-defense), where a war-ravaged soldier takes it upon himself to assassinate civilians, where children are barraged with violent video games and celebrate the death of zombies, or enemy soldiers, or even simple pedestrians (in one car-theft game whose name I’ve forgotten).
My daughter has played very few such games, and she told me the other day that she doesn’t like when the Naughty Bear “de-fluffifies” the other bears who didn’t invite him to their party. She thinks his reaction is a bit extreme. She told me a few days later that calling someone names is silly because “it just hurts someone’s feelings.” I credit her non-violent upbringing for these demonstrations of reason and humanity (is it “humanity” if imaginary bears are involved?). I like to think she’ll be an amazing addition to our adult society if she continues along this path. But so much can happen between 10 years old and 18: middle school bullying and girl-on-girl cattiness, teenage low self-worth and anxiety, sexual pressures or assault. How much can one strong-minded young woman take before she gives something up?
I gave up a lot due to violence, low self-esteem, and sexual assault. I hid behind depression, eating disorders, anger, and a layer of pudginess—all of which I’ve worked hard to overcome. But I never gave up hope that human beings are basically good. I believe it is culture, greed, and hopelessness that warp us, twist us toward violence and hatred, steer us away from loving our neighbors as we would want to be loved.
I want to nuture a different society founded on the simple principle of respect: respect for difference and differences of opinion, respect for everyone’s rights, respect for nature and the world that nourishes us. Aretha sang it well. Let us not forget it. Let dawn bring respect closer to home.