Peace on Earth?
I have a framed poster in my office of three young African-Americans being sprayed with a water hose during the Civil Rights era. Above the print is the word, “Courage.”
A few weeks ago I noticed my son staring at this picture. He had seen it before, or at least he had been in the room with the poster. This time, though, he remained frozen with his eyes locked intensely upon it. It was almost as if he was trying to make sense of what he was seeing.
Then the question came: “Daddy, what is happening in this picture?”
It was such an honest question from a 6-year-old. It deserved an honest answer.
“Son, those kids were protesting against unfair treatment. There were people there that day who wanted to stop the protest, so they sprayed them with water hoses.”
After fully explaining the word “protest” to him, my son asked, “How were they being treated unfairly?”
Another great, honest question.
“Well, not too long ago, black people — like you and me — didn’t have the same rights as other people in this country. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. So a number of brave folks like us decided to stand up against it so that we could enjoy the privileges that we have today. But…they did it peacefully.”
He seemed to understand. Conversation…over.
As I have watched the events of the past few weeks in Ferguson, Missouri, and now in New York, I find myself, more and more, reflecting on that conversation with my son. I don’t like what I’ve seen unfold on my television and computer screen. I don’t like it one bit. It makes me sad. It makes me disappointed. It makes me angry. It makes me want to react in some way.
It is in those moments that I think of that picture and my son.
What should I say to him — as well as my daughter — about Ferguson and New York? Well, if I want to say anything in a way that will allow him to hear me, I can’t react. I must respond.
Responding is what must take place in the wake of these verdicts. A response is appropriate. A response is warranted. I response is demanded. It’s the only just thing.
Response, not reactivity. Protest, not reactivity.
When I have the conversation about this with my son and daughter, this is what I will say:
“Kids, in this life you may run into people who don’t always treat you fairly. They may do things that you don’t agree with. They may say things that hurt you. They may even try to hold you down with the things they say and do.
“If this happens, don’t react. Respond. Reactivity will not bring about the justice you seek; non-reactivity and non-violence can invite a conversation that can change not only a situation but the world.
“Whenever there is injustice (or un-justice) the world will always need heroes. Heroes stand against injustice without being swept away by their emotions. Heroes display their strength by showing the power of peace and love. Be a hero.”
I look at my son and my daughter, and I am overwhelmed with the belief that peace on earth can be a reality, if we can raise up a few heroes who will help it come to pass.