Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Ripples and Reflections

{fool's gold, Coronado}
 The news of the last twenty-four hours has left me conflicted. On the one hand, I understand the celebration...people are relieved, vindicated. I'm ashamed to admit that when the news first began to seep out but details were still foggy, I had a vengeful reaction. I hoped he had seen it coming, that it hadn't been an over-in-an-instant explosion, but that he had looked our soldiers in the face and known that it was us who were calling his number. The thing is though, I'm ashamed to admit that. 

There is something about the tone of the celebrations that I've seen on the news that I find unsettling. I can understand people gathering, bringing flowers and flags, to remember loved ones and to mark the closing of a painful chapter in our history. The hooting and hollering, the chanting, and  the singing of "We Are the Champions," however, seems more appropriate for a Super Bowl party than for the death of anyone, regardless of how evil his actions may have been. I can't help but wonder how video of these impromptu celebrations will be perceived by our fellow world citizens. What will the ripple effects be, not just of the deaths themselves, but of our reaction to them?

The two quotes that I have seen tossed around in response to last night's news are by two men whose words and work I admire. The first is courtesy of Mark Twain Clarence Darrow, "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure." [edited to add: This was a misquote. It should have been attributed to Clarence Darrow and should have read, "I have never killed anyone, but I have read some obituary notices with great satisfaction." Darrow is most famous for defending high school science teacher John Scopes when he was charged with breaking the Tennessee state law that made it illegal to teach evolution, so I figure Darrow qualifies as someone whose words and work I admire.] 

The second quote, from Martin Luther King Jr., expresses a loftier sentiment, "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 hate for hate multiplies hate, 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." While Twain's Darrow's words are probably the more accurate reflection of the sentiments of most Americans, I think King's message is the one we most need to hear. I understand that sometimes force must be brought to bear, and I am forever grateful that there are so many men and women who are willing to risk life and limb to be on the sharp end. At the same time, I believe that Dr. King was right. Returning hate for hate can only increase it, and violence never leads to peace. Every action has a reaction, ripples that continue outward long after the original incident. The more I think about it, the more I believe in this idea...what we put out comes back to us. The principle of nonviolence seems an untenable one in today's world, but I think it is an ideal worth striving for.

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