Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Only Love Can Do That

My strongest memory from the first hours after the attack on 9/11/01 was the eye contact.  I had just moved from Boston to California, leaving behind friends and family scattered up and down the eastern seaboard from Washington D.C., to New York, and I knew almost no one in Berkeley, CA.  But as I walked to a vigil for the victims that had quickly been organized, I had an experience that made me feel more connected to my neighbors than at any other time in my life.  Every one we passed, every single person, looked me right in the eye.  Few words were shared.  Few words were needed.  Whereas mere hours ago we would have found difference in our histories, our clothing, our culture or skin color, suddenly we were all together Americans.

Being attacked will do that to you.  And as I learned that day, it is a powerful thing.  At that moment we were scared, vulnerable, unsure.  It was one of those moments in history when incredible things are possible.  I could feel that potential in the eyes that searched mine.  And I knew they searched for hope, because I searched for it as well.

But instead of hope, our fear was fed by selfish politicians not up to the task of true leadership.  Beyond the disgusting acts of the cowards who perpetrated the horror on 9/11, that is how I will always remember that piece of our collected American history: As a tremendous failure of leadership and as an enormous missed opportunity to recalibrate America's impact on the world.

Do I know who did this or exactly why?  Absolutely not.  But I do know that if we once again strike out in anger we will simply continue this cycle.

I know, this is not a message that feels comforting to hear right now.  At times like this we are supposed to rally around the flag.  At times like this we are supposed to pick a common enemy, hopefully a weak one with oil buried underneath them, and take out our righteous fury upon them with the full capability of our military might.  After all, why bankrupt your social services infrastructure for a generation if not to use the military you built up with the spoils?

But if we follow that script again, we will take yet another step away from the best America we can be and another giant leap towards the stereotype of the fear-mongering bully so many think we are.  And we won't make ourselves one bit more safe or secure.

We certainly have a very different President now than we did then.  But how differently really?  As someone who, despite my best efforts at the time, was unable to stop the inexorable march to war a decade ago, I feel that it is important today, and without delay, for all of us to say out loud that we will not follow a path to hate.  We must, without delay, make it clear to the President that we support a different way forward.

I for one will not once again let this moment of possibility be misappropriated by bad leadership.  I will not once again watch as instead of growing our circle of inclusion wider we are driven farther apart.  I don't know who did this or why, but I do know that I am even more prepared now than I was a dozen years ago to help direct our confused emotions towards gestures of healing and love, and away from fearful acts of ignorant reprisal that only furthers the wedge and ensures the cycle will repeat again. 

If we have learned nothing else from the hundreds of thousands of lives lost this decade in Iraq and Afghanistan, it must be this truth: that violence will never lead to security.  

As Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically spoke:

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.

Please join me in responding to this horrible attack with love and not with more violence. Keep making loving eye contact with strangers, helping your neighbors, giving blood. But do not give in to fear and hate. Another way is possible and fear doesn't have to win. We can not ever be totally secure, but we can control how we act in these moments. Please join me in pledging to respond with love and hope.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts Jeremy.

  2. Jeremy, I have had such a hard time with this. People react violently to violence with a mob-like vengeance mentality and it seems NOBODY can see it! I follow a New Orleans news channel on facebook and it seems (with New Orleans' high violent crime rate) the reaction is often, "Hang em" "Skin him alive" "Let the ants eat him" "One bullet". It is so heartbreaking. I beg of these people to think differently going round and round, often times being told I should die. I just don't get it. I appreciate this blog entry. Sincerely, Shannon