Last week’s Leadership Thought “I Have No Words” sparked a lot of email, texts and comments. Many of you, like me, are struggling to find the words, to know how to react to the unrest around us, and to know what actions to take. Many of the messages contained an explicit or implicit question: But, what about the violence and the looting?
Let me respond, first by saying, I am a self-proclaimed pacifist. I abhor violence and destruction of any kind. I wish we all could just get along (you know, hold hands and sing “Kumbaya”). I wish that for the neighbors in a dispute, our political parties, the countries of the world, and certainly the races of the world. Like John Lennon I “Imagine all the people living life in peace”.
However, I am also a realist. There are wars (and, yes, I wholeheartedly support our troops, I come from a long line of those who have served our country), there is conflict, and yes, there are riots, violence and looting. History is filled with examples of rioting and looting going back thousands of years.
Don’t believe me? Google “riots throughout history”. There are so many of them, they had to divide them up by century. There were riots in Rome when Julius Caesar was assassinated.There were riots in Canada after a loss in the Stanley Cup. There were riots in the U.S. over a tax on…whiskey.
The Boston Massacre occurred because colonists were frustrated with the presence of British Soldiers in their neighborhoods and threw snowballs at Soldiers. The soldiers responded and killed five colonists.
The Boston Tea Party was a result of growing resentment between the colonies and British taxation. 342 chests of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor. It started a revolution.
As my wife and I watched Ken Burns’ Civil War this week, I was reminded of the riots that took place in the North in response to the draft of Union soldiers.
As I researched this post, I learned of “Red Summer”, a series of riots and looting in over three dozen cities that took place 100 years ago at the end of World War I. Whites were fearful the black soldiers returning from the war would take their already scarce jobs. (Interesting that was at the same time in history as the Spanish Flu pandemic…history repeats?)
Riots and looting have occurred because of political differences, because of hatred of another people, because of team affiliations (football, soccer, basketball, hockey), and yes, because of race. Sometimes, the oppressed have rioted, and sometimes the aggressors have rioted.
I have to ask the question, what would have happened if the armed protesters who protested in state houses recently against “stay-at-home” orders were met with aggression instead of silence?
Would I ever feel anger or hopelessness, or feel passionately enough about a cause to resort to violence? I’d like to say “no”, but what I can say is “never say never”.
I, for one, have felt anger. However, I can’t imagine what it feels like to be oppressed. Oppressed for hundreds or even thousands of years. I have felt hopelessness. However, I can’t imagine the hopelessness of generation after generation who are suffering and yet, are unheard.
What I can do is listen with empathy and compassion to the voices of generations.