If you are anything like me, on Saturday August 12th you were terrified to find out that the young man who had driven a car into a crowd of people in Charlottesville was from our area. We learned of the details of this young person who decided to take part in the white supremacist rally and then allowed his radical ideology to take him to a place even he couldn’t have planned. An innocent life was taken, unjustly and the attack was felt up here. That small red sticker on his license plate let us all know that the killer was from our very community. Many people responded with anger and disgust, more responded with love and resolve to move forward even more powerfully.
I found myself processing this particular attack for several days afterward. Immediately I was certain that this was a cowardly act of domestic terrorism fueled by hate and a distorted view of human beings. I continued to think through how this hate-filled ideology takes hold of people and wondered what the proper response should be. What could it be?
A proper response
Before we can understand the response to a problem I think we must understand the cause of the problem as thoroughly as possible. Let’s be clear: the attack in Charlottesville was radical white-supremacist terrorism. It was an ideology, no matter how illogical that ideology may be on its own, that was taken to a radical place. And the murderer was radicalized, which is to say, essentially intoxicated by this belief system. It clouded his judgement, lead him to far away places and his actions ultimately stood out among even his own peers in the application of their belief.
I think radicalization is what happens when a story about humanity, a way of understanding the world, grows such deep roots in someone’s life that it bears fruit uncommonly seen. Then I started to wonder. What if there was a different type of radical? Of course there is a different kind of story about the world… but how deep could those roots be?
As parents we tell stories to our children. We tell stories that we believe. We tell them stories that teach and then reinforce the way we want them to believe. And, as parents we have to make sure those stories are taking root. We want good stories to fill our children’s minds and hearts and souls.
Stories about how the planet is open and expansive and owned by no one but leaving
everyone in its debt.
Stories that show there is enough to go around.
Stories about equality and justice and love and hope and acceptance and forgiveness.
Stories about working hard and sacrificing harder.
Stories that teach us to earn as much as you need but to give all that you can.
These are some of the stories that I want my kids to hear and remember as they grow up in a world that is filled with the counterpoints of pessimism and data that shows your doubt is true. But I also want these stories to take deep root in their hearts and mind and souls. I want these stories to bear fruit in their interactions with their friends, their plans for their careers, and their hopes for the future.
But what happened that day in Charlottesville made me even more hopeful. Now I’m hoping that these stories I tell my children bear fruit uncommonly seen. I want these stories to cloud our children’s judgement and lead them to far away places. I want to radicalize love and acceptance and inclusion and justice and hope. And then I want to send these radicals out into the world with courage and confidence to speak up. Speak up when a classmate, who is growing up with many different stories begins to repeat lies they’ve heard about how certain human beings are less deserving of love and acceptance. We all know that it’s hard to raise your voice in the midst of darkness. So I want to work now to raise radicals who will not be afraid to speak up, to tell a better story, no matter where that leads them.