I turned sixty years old in April. When I was a child I thought of sixty years as a very long time, and having no point of reference I couldn’t begin to grasp the brevity of it. I couldn’t imagine years could go by so fast. One of the fringe benefits of being sixty is that if one keeps his eyes open he will, by default, collect information, which if properly percolated eventually, again through no superhuman effort on his part, becomes wisdom.
And one of the first things a truly wise person realizes is that he knows very little. When one considers the vastness of all there is to know about the universe to which we’ve been assigned, the sum of our collective knowledge is negligible, and that of a single person, even the wisest, in infinitesimal. And in my case we’re talking one or two parts per billion. We’re talking next to none at all.
But even I know the world as a whole and the United States in particular is an increasingly frightening place to be. It’s a place whose story is painful to tell. Painful to watch unfold. It is a nation that is in a more divisive state than I have seen it, save one year prior, and that was 1968.
That is significant in a few different ways. As I write these words there are people filling the streets in cities across the nation, reacting in rage over the killing of yet another African American man by a white police officer, in plain view of numerous witnesses with their phones recording the event from multiple angles. He was killed with apparent blatant disregard for the laws the officers were charged to enforce and with a complete absence of human decency. The protesters turned rioters have likewise crossed over a line into lawlessness and wanton destruction which ultimately serves a purpose counter to any intended outcome.
Things were like that in 1968 as well. Racial tension had been a steadily been moving toward a boiling point when Dr. King was murdered a few weeks before my eighth birthday. Riots broke out in the wake of the assassination in sixty cities across the U.S.
Interestingly one city in which rioting did not occur was Indianapolis, where Robert F. Kennedy was campaigning for the presidency. He announced the slaying of Dr. King at an impromptu gathering and spoke publicly for the first time of his own brother’s killing pointing out that John had also been killed by a white man. He spoke of his family’s pain and loss, and of Dr. King’s efforts to affect change using non-violent means which were in direct contrast to the madness which was breaking out in other places.
There are many people who believe that at least part of the reason Indianapolis did not see rioting was Kennedy’s speech that day. His willingness to relive and to share his personal pain enabled others to see beyond their own and to consider the possibility that violence was not the answer.
Two months and two days later Bobby was gone as well.
So, yes, 1968 like 2020, was a monumentally horrible year.
I don’t think I have to tell anyone things feel similarly right now. In 2020 we have covid, in 1968 we had Viet Nam. It sucked a lot then, and it does again now.
But there is a significant difference and it worries me. And this brings us to the heart of what I’ve come to you today to talk about.
In American today there is a culture of hatred which is essentially state-sponsored, and which radiates down from the highest levels of leadership onto a population of people who prove that we appear to be fundamentally incapable of wrapping our minds around the fact that there is no correct skin tone. The degree to which your skin is pigmented does not make you any better or worse than anybody else. It doesn’t endow you with and particular rights and neither should it deny them. The only difference, the only true difference, is that the ancestors of both groups migrated to different parts of the planet and over countless years their bodies adapted to diverse climates in a myriad of ways, one of which was more or less melanin in their skin.
That’s it folks. That’s the difference. Anything else you think makes you different is the result of decisions you’ve made about your perception of your fellow human beings.
The same was true in 1968, with one gargantuan difference. There was a culture of love running counter to the culture of war and greed and death on a previously unimaginable scale. It began, as it always does, with the young people. Unsatisfied with the result of the sacrifices made by their parent’s generation which rang hollow and untrue to them, they chose to love.
They loved recklessly. Freely. They sat together in the summertime, people of all races and backgrounds, listening to amazing new music (about love) and dared to believe that a world based on the principals of universal love was desirable, obtainable. To a boy who had as one of his earliest memories seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan, by 1967 just about anything they told me was gospel, and when they said “All you need is love,” I was willing to buy in. I was willing to believe, even in 1968, that if we remained true to the principals of love for all humankind regardless of skin tone or the spot on the planet you called home or the God you worshiped, or did not worship we could make a real difference. I was willing to believe the love carried with it a power of its own and that at some point if enough other people believed the same we would eventually reach a point of critical mass and there would be a literal chain reaction that would tip the scales permanently. War would be obsolete, as would injustice and racism and our eyes would truly be opened.
We think of this as a ’60s phenomenon, but in the beginning of the 1970s the feeling was still there. The belief was still breathing, still pink. By the end of the decade, however, it was clear to those of us approaching adulthood that we had not reached that critical mass. We had not typed the scales. And although for a brief shining instant it seemed as though the ultimate goal of essentially every significant philosophy, that of peace unassailable and fueled by wanton, audacious love was an achievable reality, we grew disillusioned as we saw that greed was a far more insidious enemy that we’d realized. We saw that ignorance was not only endemic, it seemed to be desired, extolled even. And we saw that there were still people in power who had only their own interests as their prime motivation.
And that disillusionment eventually grew and morphed into the climate with which we’re currently confronted.
It seems hopeless.
But what if…
…there were among the disillusions one who remains convinced of the power of collective love. What if there were two?
What if there were many, scattered like leavening in a grand ball of expanding dough, many who one by one began to find each other, and began to again make changes to the planet based on the greater welfare of all humanity, not just the ones adept at stealing the most money? Not just the ones accomplished at flaunting the greatest hypocrisy?
And what if we started some shenanigans?
What if we declared that beginning today we would begin a coordinated campaign of random acts of love and decency? What if we looked out for everyone, not just #1?
What might that planet Earth look like?
War is not Peace.
The Truth is not a Lie.
The Enemy is not the human who looks different. It’s the one who looks the same and attempts to lure me into his hatred.
Hate is not Love.
Love is love. Only love.
And it is completely okay for us to love one another for no discernible reason. It’s okay to love for love’s sake. And I for one intend to do just that.
Let’s start a culture that rejects the tenants of hate.S.J. Varengo