The "R" Word

I am going to describe three incidents with a common thread. My comments and observations will follow.  
 
 1) In 1969 I was hitchhiking on a street corner in Oakland California. There was open warfare on the streets in Alameda County  in California as well as in many other places in this country. This was the age of protests and rioting in the streets.  All officers were doubled up in patrol cars.  Young men who were associated with the various protest movements of the time could be identified by an excess of hair. I wore my hair down to my shoulders and my beard reached to the second button of my shirt. Police officers were considered by many fitting my description to be the enemy and the feeling was often mutual.
 
 A patrol car occupied by two police officers pulled up to me. The window rolled down. One officer informed me that I was performing an illegal act and I could be immediately arrested and put in prison if I did not cease and desist.
 
 I replied in the following fashion: "I apologize. I'm very sorry. I didn't know. I just want to get where I am going and I don't want to cause you trouble." The two police officers glanced at each other and I could almost see their jaws drop. I was first informed of what the law said. Then, one asked where I was going. When I replied, he said, "What the hell, we're going that way. Get in."
 
 On the way, a conversation of sorts revealed a little about them. They both had children close to my age. Beneath gruff exteriors each appeared distressed and overwhelmed by the current state of affairs. These were men who believed that the world they were assigned to protect and serve considered them the enemy. My only response was kind of like this, "Gee, I don't get it either." 
 
 I got a lot of street cred from showing up at a pot party chauffeured by a couple of Alameda County's finest.
 
 2) On May 15 2013, my wife and I boarded a light rail traveling from Washington D.C. to Baltimore. We had a lot of luggage and were exhausted and brain-numbed from flying all night from Alaska. Soon four young black teenagers boarded and sat near us, across the aisle. As one sat, he pointed both hands at us, forefingers extended and thumbs up in a gesture that suggested pointing and cocking guns. A chill went through me. They spoke to each other in a hip-hop "dialect" and the only words we understood were ones we didn't want to hear.
 
 Then an adult black passenger spoke directly to them. He said, "I have kids your age and they show respect." They glowered and muttered, the conversation lowered in volume but remained profane and slang-ridden.
 
 When we reached our stop and rose to leave one of the teenagers stood up, stepped to the intercom and in perfect English said, "The people who are getting off  have a lot of luggage, please give them some extra time." And the other three helped us off with our luggage.
 
 3) On April 20 1995 I was at a gathering of people with whom I was associating at the time. It was the day after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building at Oklahoma City in which 168 people - 19 of who were children in a Day Care Center - were murdered by right wing extremists. As I watched and listened with growing alarm, I noted that although the conversation concerned the bombing, there was no compassion evident in either tone or words.
 
 Any reference to the death of innocent government employees and children was met by snickers and phrases like “too bad about the collateral damage” and “affirmative action bottom feeders” and “see what a quota gets you.” Someone actually said “All right! Let's nuke the Anchorage Bowl next!”  Comments seemed to be copied and pasted from right wing radio rants. 
 
 Of these three incidents, the first is the easiest to get. A dignified and respectful “I'm sorry” can defuse a lot of tense situations.
 
In the second incident, we encountered a group of teenagers who formed their own pop-culture driven mutual admiration society and came off as looking like punks. But all it took was for a grownup to remind them to show respect. They certainly knew how to express it.
 
 The third incident is a little harder to explain. These individuals, most of whom I knew and whom I believe were at heart decent people, seemed to be afflicted by a sort of politically driven mutual admiration which lead to groupthink. That, in my opinion, is what caused them to speak so callously and dismissively of  all the deaths. Nothing can be stupider than a group of people who all agree. Most of them had good reason to distrust and dislike government and their self enforced brain-washing caused them to lose all appreciation of the tragedy of lost lives because they associated those lives with the government.
 
 I witnessed similar reactions of liberal activists in the 1960s and 1970s to the bombing of banks and killing of police officers (whom the left called pigs). The right has no monopoly on insensitivity.
 
 Groupthink stifles free thought. To break through, choose respect. Choose respect for the unborn, the mothers of the unborn, the Women Religious, the aged and the homeless. Choose respect for those of other faiths and other political views. Choose respect for the knuckleheads who know respect but don't show it. Choose respect for the knuckleheads that don't know respect and maybe they will learn it from you.
 
Peter  said, “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality”. Acts 10
 
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself.” Philippians 2:3
 
Author's Note : Women Religious is an order of Catholic nuns.