Last night I attended the annual fireworks display in Sebastopol, California. We celebrate a day early in Sebastopol, but who’s counting? The event is a stereotypical example of small town America at its best.
With over 4,000 people crammed onto the high school football field, it was challenging for latecomers to find an empty spot, but everyone was accommodated in close quarters, and nobody seemed to mind. (In this case, a latecomer is someone who—like myself—arrives several hours before the main event.)
A flag ceremony led by fife and drum preceded the singing of the national anthem, and then—fireworks! The pyrotechnics were punctuated by whistles, explosions, and the “Ooohs” and “Ahhhs” of the appreciative audience. It was peaceful. It was fun. When it was over, thousands of people poured out of the stadium in orderly fashion. Some of us walked a mile or more to our cars. Despite the inevitable jostling, merging and waiting, the atmosphere was cheerful—small town living at its best. And, yet, as I sat on that football field, I was troubled. Was I the only one in the crowd ruminating on the state of the Nation? I believe my country is at a crossroads.The principles of democracy that have held our country together seem to be unraveling. I’m worried. And, so, as I left the event last night my mind was spinning. Thoughts raced through my head keeping me awake all night. Now, as I write, they are spilling onto my blog.
Deepak Chopra stated that, “Nationalism is just another form of tribalism.” Those who know history (and it seems that not many Americans do), know that a worldwide rise in nationalism invariably leads to conflict on a global scale. “My country, right or wrong,” is not my motto. When my country is wrong, I want to do everything in my power to make it right. Among other things, I can: vote; peacefully protest; contact my elected officials; write letters to the editor, and speak up for those who have no voice. I can be kind.
When did lashing out at people who are different from us or who disagree with us become acceptable? I recognize that lots of Americans are angry. I’m aware of many of the reasons why. To be honest, I’m angry, too. I’m angry that many of our elected officials are placing political interests and the quest for the might dollar ahead of the interests of the people who elected them. But anger doesn’t fix anything unless it is channeled into energy, commitment, sacrifice, and purpose. I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. was angry at times, but it wasn’t his anger that brought about change. He channeled his anger into a higher purpose— “We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know that you love them.”
No matter who you voted for, you have the right to have your own beliefs and to say and think what you think. In a democracy, everyone is free to choose their own religion and practice their religion as they see fit. Every individual has the right to enjoy his or her own culture along with the members of their group, even if their group is a minority. However, everyone has an obligation to exercise these rights peacefully, with respect for law and the rights of others.
A lecture given at Hills University for Humanistic Studies titled What Is Democracy? says it all. I urge you to follow the link to the transcript of that talk and read it. In the meantime, what can I do to channel my anger into a higher purpose? Of all the things I outlined above, I believe the last one on my list is the most important—PRACTICE KINDNESS—not just toward the people you like, but toward everyone. Forgive the person that cut you off on the highway. Practice patience. Think before you react. Refrain from gossip. Use social media to bring people together, not drive them apart. Smile. Say thank you (even if you didn’t really want it). Don’t engage in defamatory remarks against anyone. For those of you who espouse to be good Christians, but are happy to tell me who you hate,and presumptuous enough to tell me who God hates, remember that Jesus hated no one—not the Romans who ruled his people with an iron hand, not his own people who demanded his death, nor tax collectors, prostitutes and thieves.
I’m doing my best to practicing the Golden Rule. I invite you to join me. It takes practice. Some days I know I’ll do better than others. Remember, it is not “Do unto others as they have just done unto you,” but rather, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Someone once asked the Dali Lama, “What is your religion?”
His simple reply—”Kindness.”
HAPPY BIRTHDAY AMERICA!