Tale of Two Towns August 5, 2009

Doesn’t matter what town…

Not so long ago I wrote about the woman who was on the cleaning staff of my office building who was murdered. One of the elevator operators has been arrested for the crime. It was shocking and since then I have not been comfortable in the building. It is hard not to think about that act of violence; it hangs on the building, a heavy shroud of violent sadness I sense whenever I am there – which won’t be for much longer as I am moving offices shortly.

That particular blog elicited a large number of responses – many emails simply repeating the same two words: very disturbing. My beloved sister-in-law wrote me a long note. She “wonder(ed) how we can ever get back to a civilized society? One without such a dark side.” That line has tumbled around my brain ever since. I think it is common to believe things were better in the past, that we were better beings previously and that we have descended into a dark morass, darker than ever before but from which we can escape.

I don’t think man has ever inhabited that kind of Camelot.

The dichotomy in mankind that inspires and repulses at the same time is that we are so capable of goodness and we are so capable of darkness.

The 19th Century lithographers, Currier & Ives, are associated in today’s mind with a time that is frequently recalled as that kind of a Camelot – they captured all kinds of aspects of American life, including those we now associate with all the good things about Christmas. Yet as Currier & Ives were capturing those bucolic images of American life, we were sending cholera infected blankets to Native Americans as a way of thinning their numbers.

Cruelty to other members of the human race has been one of the things we humans have excelled at since the dawn of time. Get conquered in war and chances were during most periods of human history it was a death sentence – or at best you got sold off into slavery. Slavery – now that’s a fine institution that’s done a good deal for us; we’re still dealing with the aftereffects of American slavery and will continue to deal with it for a long time to come even though long strides have been made.

Everyday, everywhere human beings do terrible things to other human beings. Yet, despite that, there are things we are doing as individuals and as groups that show the other side of the two-sided human coin. Somewhere in the world today someone will risk their life to save another life as well as someone who take one. We live with this two faced aspect of man everyday when we walk the streets of any town, anywhere. Could be Hudson. Could be Claverack. Could be New York City. Walking the streets anyplace means we will be exposed to the possibility of evil and the possibility of goodness.

We’ve come a long way since the days of the human sacrifice of children to the god Moloch. I’ve been thinking about that the last couple of weeks as I am working on an initiative to help bring attention to the International Day of Peace celebrated on the 21st of September. Odyssey is working to get a million people to take a minute and think about, pray for or envision world peace – a world without nuclear arms. At least hundreds of thousands of people have participated in the past twenty-two years, probably millions. I don’t recall a time in history when such large groups of people have joined together to promote a concept that has been mostly alien to us – peace. It gives me hope. And it is hope that drives us towards goodness.

Put it in your calendar. On the 21st of September take a moment to think about, pray for, envision a world with peace breaking out everywhere. Help make it a million minutes for peace.

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