Never again?

Trying to figure out why bad things happen has been an age old question that will never be answered.  Why? Why then? Why there?  Why was I spared while others were not?  I can’t sort that out, no one can.

I can’t get my head around the phrase “never again” either.  Although it seems to be largely associated with the holocaust, I would argue that it has probably been uttered since the beginning of human civilization as a call to understand and prevent violence.  Yet, we don’t seem to live by those words.  Wars continue, violence rages onward, bigotry and genocide run rampant despite good intentions to remember that the end game is not about rubbing out others.

So what does beget violence?  In my view, it is born out of frustration of not being recognized and heard.  Unemployment, poverty, poor living conditions, stress, all compounded by hopelessness and the inability to fix the problem more often than not, creates an atmosphere of high tension.  Throw in a bit of ego, xenophobia, mistrust of the unknown, fear, uncertainty and doubt and you have the makings of a violent cauldron.

From where I sit in Boston, I am completely stymied by the marathon bombings.  Having just walked the very spots where the bombs were placed only a few days before that horrid day, I ask myself how did it happen to someone else who just wanted to watch a road race.  What could be more benign than viewing runners, in such a solitary pursuit?  Is it about violence as a tool so as to be noticed?  I don’t get it, few do.

Nowhere did the meaningless notion of “never again” echo more loudly than when I visited Bosnia in 1996 shortly after the end of the war.  After months of wringing my hands at the ongoing news of another European war, I made the decision to try to do something about the rebuilding efforts.  On my arrival to Sarajevo, I became internally unglued at the sight of city buildings obliterated by mortar fire, remnants of bombed out cars and homes riddled with bullet holes.  It was so unthinkable that this could happen after all that Europe had been through in the preceding decades.  After sitting with women who shared their stories of rape, murder of family members, fleeing from their homes with only the clothes on their back, losing everything- their homes, families, innocence, and safety, I could barely hold myself together.  Can you imagine?  No, you probably can’t, nor could I.

I can’t really grasp how our civilization can still be so uncivilized.  Good intentions didn’t get anything done and bad intentions aren’t really worth mentioning.  Action through understanding- now that is something that I can grasp.  Hard to practice-just reflect upon political differences for a moment.  When you encounter someone with completely different political views do you argue with them so that they will change their mind?  Does it work?  Of course, it doesn’t work.  But to ask questions, try to understand how their views were shaped and why they are so important to them, well now that is a meaningful exchange and a valiant pursuit.  Can’t say as though I am very good at it, but I do know for a fact that it is the right way to go.  The best negotiation tool is to provide an opportunity for your opponent to be heard.  From there the foundation of understanding can be built.

Never again?  Sadly, I don’t think so as violence seems to beget yet more violence.  The boldest are those who can move forward without the benefit of closure, yet with a solid commitment to action through understanding.  Like all good movements for social change, it begins with each of us individually.  I have plenty of work ahead of me on this front. I have to shore up my own code of conduct, shut my mouth, open my ears and listen to stuff that I don’t want to hear, be kinder, gentler, more understanding.  I am not good at this, nor should I judge others.  Hard work, big goals, valiant pursuits.

Copley Square, Boston, MA

Copley Square, Boston, MA

Boston Public Library

Boston Public Library

Old South Church, Boston, MA

Old South Church, Boston, MA