Wednesday, June 24, 2015

All The Difference



Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was sentenced to death today.

The process begins the infamous Boston Marathon Bomber’s death march. At some point years from now the government will strap Tsarnaev to a gurney, put a needle in his arm, and end his life.
I oppose the death penalty. I believe that the United States should abolish the practice. I believe capital punishment is more about exacting revenge than it is about administering justice. I don’t overlook the pain and suffering endured by those who were killed, maimed and injured by the bombs of the Tsarnaev brothers. I don’t overlook the grief felt by the families of those who died on April 15, 2013. But I believe in the power of grace and mercy to change lives. Tsarnaev must pay for his act. But might grace and mercy in this case prevent similar acts in the future? Might grace and mercy have prevented April 15, 2013 in the first place?

Last week another pathetic, misguided young man entered a church in Charleston, South Carolina and murdered nine innocent lives. His motives were based in bigoted fear. But after the act we learned that Dylann Roof spent nearly an hour inside the Emanuel AME Church and nearly changed his mind because the parishioners had welcomed and been kind to him.

In the courtroom today Tsarnaev spoke publicly for the first time since his trial began. He affirmed his admission of guilt. He told the court that through the process of his trial he “met” his victims. They became people to him; people with names and faces and families. He apologized for his actions. He expressed remorse.

Both Tsarnaev and Roof were “radicalized” online. They withdrew from wide social interaction and steeped themselves in doctrines of hate easily found online. They fed their fears and paranoia until they were ready to lash out in hate. But when that hate met humanity things changed. Too late in Tsarnaev’s case and not enough in Roof’s, but a change occurred just the same.

Both experiences seem to suggest that if people can be radicalized online, they can be reformed offline—in the real world of human relationships and interpersonal interaction. When we get to know others, things change. It changes from Us versus Them and becomes Me and You.

Perhaps we should challenge ourselves to meet someone new this week; someone who doesn’t look like the person we see when we look in the mirror. Or maybe simply perform an act of kindness for that person. Open a door, yield at the crosswalk, smile at them and say “hello” as you pass on the sidewalk. You may think it silly, but to that person it may make a difference.

And if it makes any difference, it might make all the difference.

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