Shootings during “Great March of Return”

May 16, 2018

An open letter to Senators Hassan and Shaheen and Congresswoman Kuster

This week the Israeli military fired from the Armistice Line across 300 yards of farmland in Gaza killing more than 60 and maiming over 2,700 unarmed Palestinian men, women, and children.  Since March 30 over 108 Palestinians have been killed participating in the “Great March of Return,” organized by the civil society in Gaza, not by Hamas.  70% of Palestinians in Gaza were forced from their homes in Israel 70 years ago.  Since then they have been seeking the right of return or reparation.  And they seek freedom.

Senators Hassan, Shaheen and Congresswoman Kuster:  we need your voices and your legislative initiative to counter President Trump, Ambassadors Friedman and Nikki Haley, as well as some Zionist Jews and Christians, who are saying these actions of the Israeli military are appropriate and OK. Their statements and United States complicity with the Israeli military are an embarrassment and an outrage to U.S. citizens and people of faith.  They are in violation of U.S. and international law and the values of compassion, human rights, freedom, and justice for all.

It is not OK to use “butterfly bullets” (bullets that explode on contact to tear flesh and fragment bone) fired from U.S. sniper rifles to kill unarmed people.  It is not OK to drop gas from drones on peaceful people seeking freedom. The gas has killed at least one young child with breathing problems.  It is not OK to kill people with high-powered rifles and artillery who farm and walk on their land near the Armistice Line or even kill young people who sling stones at the fence and armored vehicles.  There have been no reports of Israeli deaths or injuries.  It is not OK to imprison a whole people, bomb their infrastructure, hospitals and schools, and restrict their water, food, electricity, and supplies for rebuilding.  It is not OK to give billions of dollars in military aid to Israel that supports these abuses against people of the land.

It is an absolute a moral imperative that you speak out firmly against this Israeli military violence and seek legislation to end U.S. complicity.  Communicate with President Trump and our State Department that they must support UN resolutions condemning Israeli military action against Gaza, and also in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.  Advocate for support of an impartial investigation of Israeli military action against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. Initiate legislation to withhold all military assistance to Israel until there is an end to the immoral of use of lethal weapons against civilian Palestinians and innocent children and a path toward freedom, the right of return, and equal justice for all Palestinians and Israelis: Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Seek action to eliminate the introduction of Israeli military tactics in the training of our local police forces by the Israeli military.

U.S. complicity with Israeli oppression challenges our sensitivity as people of goodwill, justice, and peace.  It risks a trend toward normalization of violence in the name of security against people who are not just like us.  We ask that you let your values of love, care, compassion, empathy, and justice for the powerless inform your actions and guide your positions on Israel – Palestine and on issues of white privilege in our own Country.

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Vice President’s religious justification for the state of Israel

Vice President Pence’s address to the Israeli Knesset on January 22, 2018 ignores the existence of Palestinians in the land. He also fails to acknowledge the Israeli military’s dehumanizing administration of the occupied Palestinian territory. Finally, he refuses to recognize the military, political, and international involvement in the existence of the State of Israel. Instead he embraces a religious justification for the restriction of the rights of non-Jews and for Israel’s claim to all of the land from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. He told the members of the Knesset,

“The people of the United States have always held a special affection and admiration for the People of the Book… The Jewish people’s unbreakable bond to this sacred city reaches back more than 3,000 years. It was here, in Jerusalem, on Mount Moriah that Abraham offered his son, Isaac, and was credited with righteousness for his faith in God… It was here, in Jerusalem, that King David consecrated the capital of the Kingdom of Israel. And since its rebirth, the modern State of Israel has called this city the seat of its government… It was the faith of the Jewish people that gathered the scattered fragments of a people and made them whole again; that took the language of the Bible and the landscape of the Psalms and made them live again. And it was faith that rebuilt the ruins of Jerusalem and made them strong again.”

In this speech, Pence neglected to recognize that 43% of Jews in Israel self identify as secular or non-observant. Then the Vice President sidestepped our country’s commitment to never give preferential treatment to any particular religious faith. He chose to interpret the history of Jerusalem and the surrounding region with “the language of the Bible and the landscape of the Psalms…” He chose one from among many Jewish, Christian, and Muslim interpretations concerning the land and its peoples: Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims. He chose an interpretation of a particular Jewish-Christian belief system to justify United States support for Israel.

However, the conflict in Israel-Palestine is not a religious struggle. Religion is used only as a leverage or diversion to divide people and subvert their voices. For example, there is a conviction circulating that Muslims persecute Palestinian Christians. However, a Christian woman and village council member in the Palestinian Muslim village of Azzun said to me over a meal in her home, “Why do people keep asking about our relationship with Muslims? We are all Palestinians! Christian, Muslim, it doesn’t matter. We all suffer the same injustice.”

When Pence inserts his personal religious belief interpretations into the conflict, he bolsters these misunderstandings about relationships among Jews, Christians and Muslims in Israel – Palestine. He also gives justification for a God-given Jewish Nation State. For example, he gives credence to Netanyahu’s advocacy for the bill before the Israeli Knesset, “Israel – The Nation-State of the Jewish People.” The bill declares “the right to realize national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”

This religious framework also justifies treating non-Jews differently. For example, Jewish citizens are tried in civil courts while Palestinians are tried in military courts. Palestinian movements are severely restricted and they suffer indignities at checkpoints. Palestinian children receive harsh treatment from the Israeli military. For example, I have personally witnessed the taking of a 16 year-old boy from his home in the Palestinian village of Jayyous at 3 AM. Another Palestinian boy reported being handcuffed, blindfolded, threatened, and receiving harsh physical interrogation asking for the names of his friends; all without the presence of lawyers or family. Other methods used on children include solitary confinement and physical violence. There are currently some 350 Palestinian children in Israeli prisons and detention centers, according to a local human rights organization, Addameer.

Vice President Pence, speaking about his understanding of the biblical mandate for the Jewish Nation State, has failed Palestinian children and their elders. He has failed Palestinian Christians, Jewish advocates for human rights, and Palestinian Muslims. He said in his speech to the Knesset, “We stand with Israel because we believe in right over wrong, in good over evil, and in liberty over tyranny.” It would be more appropriate to say, “We stand for right over wrong, good over evil, liberty over tyranny, and call upon Israel to join us in seeking the end of oppression and injustice in Israel/Palestine.” That would be an affirmation and a request consistent with the values of our Country and with the ethics of Jews, Christians, Muslims and many other faith communities.

John Buttrick

 

Abandon Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear weapons,

Like plump poisonous mushrooms

Lure humans toward death.

 

Outside my window is a Hawthorn tree covered with bunches of red berries supporting dollops of new snow. Every year in the middle of January thirty or forty Canadian robins will flock to its branches. After two or three days the birds will move on, every berry eaten, leaving the branches empty, colorless, and grey. Thus will be the end and the beginning of New England’s life cycle: barren branches soon bursting with buds announcing spring, the shade of green leaves softening the summer heat, followed by speckled leaves and emerging berries of frosty Fall nights.

Over breakfast and coffee last Sunday the dependability and joy of this view was overshadowed with two articles in the Concord Monitor. The first was a report of the missile alert mistake in Hawaii that sent the population scrambling for cover. The second article reported plans to increase the number of long-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads on Trident submarines.

These articles followed earlier news reports that over the coming years the Pentagon plans to spend another $1 trillion to build a new generation of nuclear bombs and delivery systems. All of this is in the context of the debate over the wisdom of a President being able to make the unilateral decision to launch a nuclear attack.

There also is Congressional legislation being offered to control the use of nuclear weapons. Senator Edward Markey and Representative Ted Lieu have introduced HR 669 and S. 200 Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017. It “prohibits the President from using Armed Forces to conduct first-use nuclear strike unless such strike is pursuant to a congressional declaration of war expressly authorizing such strike” (Congress.Gov).

Senator Edward Markey and Representative John Conyers have introduced S. 216 and HR 4140, No Unconstitutional Strike Against North Korea Act of 2017. It seeks “to prohibit the introduction of Armed Forces into hostilities in North Korea without declaration of war or explicit statutory authorization and for other purposes” (Congress.Gov).

The Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, NPT, prohibits all but five states—China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States—from possessing nuclear weapons. However, India, Israel, and Pakistan also possess nuclear weapons but are not signatories of the NPT.

The reality is that these proposed congressional bills and the nuclear nonproliferation treaty leave the United States with approximately 2122 deployed nuclear weapons. They include 470 ICBM warheads, 1,152 submarine-launched ballistic missiles, 300 bombs, and 200 air launched missiles. Also, there are 2530 more nuclear warheads on reserve and 2530 waiting dismantling. Many of these US warheads have explosive yields 20 to 40 times larger than those of the warheads that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 (Union of Concerned Scientists). These numbers do not include the nuclear weapons held at the ready by the six other countries known to possess them.

The reality is that “half of 1% of the explosive power of the deployed nuclear arsenal can create nuclear darkness. 100 Hiroshima-size weapons exploded… would put 5 million tons of smoke in the stratosphere and drop average global temperatures to Little Ice Age levels. Shortened growing seasons could cause up to 1 billion people to starve to death” (nucleardarkness .org). A nuclear war would result in “widespread damage to human health, agriculture, and terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Killing frosts would reduce growing seasons by 10–40 days per year for 5 years. Surface temperatures would be reduced for more than 25 years due to thermal inertia and albedo effects in the ocean and expanded sea ice. The combined cooling and enhanced UV would put significant pressures on global food supplies and could trigger a global nuclear famine” (American Geophysical Union). And my hawthorn tree would be a leafless, berryless, spiky skeleton.

I write this not to create fear. I write to suggest that for the past 73 years we have been living as a nation with a psychological blind spot: living with the belief that we can use nuclear weapons to protect life. We are like a person with a bomb strapped to their body believing that setting it off will kill the enemy but save the individual who explodes the bomb. Our nation is tied to nuclear weapons. We do not see that the emperor wears the clothes of death.

The Union of Concern Scientists calls on the United States to lead a global effort to prevent nuclear war by:  “renouncing the option of using nuclear weapons first; ending the sole, unchecked authority of any president to launch a nuclear attack; taking US nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert; cancelling the plan to replace its entire arsenal with enhanced weapons; and actively pursuing a verifiable agreement among nuclear armed states to eliminate their nuclear arsenals.”

These methods to prevent nuclear war are important to support. However, they divert from the reality that any use of nuclear weapons: response strike, first strike, or threatened strike; will not save us. Believing that possession of nuclear weapons contributes to our safety is a national psychosis. The use of nuclear weapons is a suicidal mission contributing to the death of the world. There are no winners.

Our national leaders need to focus on the realistic humanitarian choice of eliminating all of our nation’s nuclear weapons, now. This will free up the $1 trillion dollars currently planned for nuclear weapons. This money could be used for foreign long-term development and humanitarian aid. In 2015 the United States allocated 26 billion to development and humanitarian foreign aid.   Imagine what an additional $1 trillion would do for U.S. relationships with people in need around the world. We would not only be refusing to be complicit in the mutual assured destruction of the world, we would also be contributing to the health, nourishment, and safety for the people of the world. At the least, we would not be participating in our own nuclear destruction and at best, other peoples and nations would be reluctant to destroy a country committed to the wellbeing of all people.

How would that be for money well spent? And perhaps, just perhaps, other nuclear weapons nations would follow the U.S. lead. Then perhaps, just perhaps, my hawthorn tree will stand laden with berries to feed those robins for another cold New England winter.

December 2017

December 2017                   (Published in the New Hampshire Concord Monitor)

One of the readings from the Psalms during the Advent season leading up to Christmas includes the lines, “(The ones) who go out weeping, carrying their bag of seed, will come back with songs of joy, carrying home their sheaves.” (Psalm 126: 6)

As a sandy soil gardener, I live through each growing season with the awareness that my ability to coax flowers to bloom and plants to produce vegetables is limited by the whims of weather, climate change, and the cycles of the moon! This past spring, summer, and fall have been especially challenging. I’ve watered, composted, mulched, staked, weeded, and chanted encouraging words over anemic faltering plants. My harvest songs of joy have been strained and muted as I have given thanks for the one meal of green beans, three tomatoes, a couple dozen cherry tomatoes, five stubby cucumbers, a few stalks of scraggly broccoli, and several snippets from stunted basil. Now the frost has frozen in place the pea-sized brussels sprouts. The garden, cleared of debris, sleeps under a protective blanket of snow.

It occurs to me that my gardening struggle may be a living metaphor that reflects the governmental and social malaise currently infecting our wellbeing. Many weep as they sow seeds of non-violence, seeds of welcome to the immigrant and refugee, seeds of healthcare for all, and seeds of economic justice; only to see them sprout and fall to the blight of lies, the drought of empathy, the derision of care for neighbor, and the domination of coercive power. Many “suffer the insults of the arrogant, the contempt of the proud,” and the patronizing of the rich. (Psalm 123: 3-4)

The burden of these struggles and the creeping December darkness bring out the curmudgeon in me. I don’t reach the extreme of a Grinch or a Scrooge or Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life. But I am mired in a desperate void empty of the bright spirit of the Winter Solstice, Hanukkah lights, and the shining star of the Christmas nativity. Everywhere I turn the holiday spirit is overshadowed with discount purchase opportunities; new movies filled with explosions and violent solutions to evil; congressional legislation focused on accumulating wealth and human beings as commodities; and a regurgitation of verbal attacks among political and cultural adversaries.

Particularly egregious this holiday season has been President Trump’s announcement defying the wisdom of the nations of the world by declaring Jerusalem the Capital of Israel. He has totally missed the nuance of Jerusalem’s political history and its significance not only to Jews, but also for Palestinian Christians and Muslims. In 1947 the United Nations supported a divided Jerusalem, which held until the six-day war when Israel annexed East Jerusalem on June 18, 1967.  And in 1980 Israel enacted the Basic Jerusalem Law declaring a unified Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital.” The United Nations Security Council resolution 478 declared this law a violation of international law. Throughout this history, Palestinians have held on to their vision to have East Jerusalem as their Capital.

President Trump’s support of Israel’s claim on West and East Jerusalem has not only limited the possibilities for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians: Jews, Christians, and Muslims; but has also spawned violent reactions during this season of “Peace on Earth and good will toward all people.” Making his announcement just prior to Hanukah and Christmas has emboldened the Israeli military to increase restrictions on Palestinian Christians seeking to cross the barrier wall from Bethlehem to Jerusalem to observe Christmas services. These tightened military actions have also restricted Muslims from their holy sites and their places of work. And so this season of joy has been corrupted with tears of many peace-seeking Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims; who have been working for so long to sow seeds of love and justice in a social and political climate of distrust, aggression, and fear. They are two peoples and three faiths, seeking the political presence of two nations and access to their holy sites in the historic city of Jerusalem.

However, to complete the garden metaphor, on the edge of our fatigued garden grows a thriving five-foot blue spruce tree. It stands strong through this winter of struggles in our country and in the holy places of Hanukah and Christmas. The two hundred tiny white lights sparkling in its branches on cold winter nights join with Hanukah lights and winter solstice fires to testify that darkness will not prevail.   The persistent presence of our evergreen tree of life in our depleted garden proclaims the reality in the promise of a future proclaimed by Mary, mother of Jesus, “God has brought down monarchs from their thrones, and raised on high the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” The presence of this tiny blue spruce with its shining lights declare with Isaiah, “As the earth puts forth her blossom or plants in the garden burst into flower, so will the Sovereign God make God’s victory…blossom before all the nations.”

May the seeds of justice and peace be sown among us this holiday season to be nourished and blossom in our lives, in Jerusalem, and in all the nations of the world.

 

 

Choose Hospitality not Walls

My Turn                                                                                             August 30, 2017

Choose Hospitality, not Walls

Recently, a woman stopped me on Elm Street in downtown Manchester and asked, “Do you have a dollar? It’s all I need to make up enough money for a cup of coffee.”

This unnamed woman interrupted our dash to a sandwich shop for a strategy session to prepare for a meeting with our U.S. Senator. We were to plan effective advocacy against a bill to come before the Senate. Our presentation was to be based upon a humanitarian and justice foundation. I was mentally pacing out the steps of our approach to the issue as we walked by the entreating woman. I completely missed the connection between our urgency to advance our humanitarian case to the Senator and the immediacy of the woman’s request for a dollar.

The image of the woman seeking a cup of coffee stayed with me for the next few days. It brought back a memory of my years as a welfare officer in a small New Hampshire town. The people I had assisted taught me that behind every crisis requiring immediate financial aid was the critical need to have someone listen to their story and empathize with their suffering, anger, fear, and frustration with the entanglements and injustices of government regulations and social systems.

That memory morphed into missed possibilities of interaction with the woman who met us on the street. We could have invited her to walk with us to the sandwich shop to buy her a cup of coffee and perhaps a sandwich or a pastry to go with it. Or, I thought, we could have invited her to sit with our planning group and listen in on our conversation over coffee and breakfast. Perhaps she could even have contributed her understanding of injustice, abuse, and destruction of dignity to the issues that were motivating our advocacy concerning the Senate bill.

Or even more compelling, perhaps her story would have been important for our U.S. Senator to hear. We had been promised an hour. Giving up fifteen minutes of our time to the woman may have affirmed her dignity and ability to advocate for herself. As people of privilege, we have access to our Senator’s office and the ability to speak to the power of our U.S. Senate that may not be easily available to her.

I’m not asking us to condemn ourselves for walking by a person panhandling when we are on the way to work, shopping, or to pick up one of our children from school. (However, for those who are Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, as well as many other faith traditions, there is Scriptural precedent for stopping to give help). I use the story only to illustrate our country’s widening communication gaps among people with differing life experiences. Frequently people do not notice or even acknowledge the existence of other people living in different environments, cultures, or economic circumstances. However, when we do notice one another it is often when needs, values, or identities come into conflict. Every day we read in newspapers, tweets, and on Facebook derogatory labels attached to rival individuals and organizations. There is name-calling, suspicion, misunderstanding, and sometimes hate and violence. We hear them on radio and TV news as well as on entertainment venues and talk shows. They come from some of our nations leaders, hate groups, and occasionally from some more moderate advocacy organizations. I’ll not give credence to those labels by using them as examples here.   Unfortunately many of them are already imprinted into our consciousness.

This widening communication gap calls forth the worst within us. It revives old prejudices and misunderstandings about classifications of human beings. A recent United States map drawn by the Southern Poverty Law Center illustrates geographical divides, some back to the Civil War, that are being actively promoted by separatist groups. The White House is reviving the divide between Americans and all others: insisting on a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and creating barriers to immigration and even tourism. Legislative leadership, state and national, tends to pit economic considerations against human needs.

The pathway toward a more humane society includes advocating for legislation that breaks down the separation barriers of widening disparities in income, education, cultures, religion, ethnic origins, and the differences in accents and traditions of people living in rural and urban settings as well as from different regions of the country. It also involves courage and the risk of hospitality that welcomes together people from all strata of our society. Everyone is invited to the table: those who eat with spoons, or forks, or fingers, or chopsticks – with their left hands or their right hands. Our differences are real. Some people are very conscious of rank and respect, insisting on “sir and ma’am.” Others are more comfortable with informal expressions of equality. Some value avoiding conflict at all cost. While others value a good debate. Some always look for ways to give praise and support. Others are more economical with their compliments. Some are enthusiastic, boisterous, and chaotic while others are more comfortable in a climate of soft-spoken reason. Geography and personal history influence temperament as well as the status and meaning of our lives. Some speak slowly and smoothly. Others speak with clipped staccato consonants. Some values are almost universally accepted. Others are diverse and in conflict.

The pathway toward a more open, just, and peaceful society is not easy, particularly amidst the fabricated divisiveness flaunted all around us. The pathway begins modestly, in our neighborhoods and communities. It begins at the coffee shop or the bookstore, at the ballpark or during intermission at a concert, in the grocery store or the dentist’s waiting room. It begins by listening to each other for understanding, to nurture empathy, to create dignity, and to inspire advocacy for the well being of one another.

For me, the journey down the pathway to increasing awareness and hospitality opened up with the invitation, “Do you have a dollar to complete the cost for a cup of coffee?”

(Published:  My Turn, Concord Monitor (NH), September 18, 2017)

 

“Race,” a False Absurd Construct

Recently I sat in the DMV waiting for my number to be called so I could to renew my license. Waiting with me were people with different shades of skin from diverse economic, ethnic, regional and country backgrounds.

To distract us from the long wait was an overhead screen displaying a series of slides. One of the themes was the organ donation check off option on the driver’s license application. One slide explained that matches for organ donations are not related to skin color or regional, national, or ethnic origin. Therefore matches for donated organs can be identified across the spectrum of humanity. It seems we are one people, worldwide! This simple affirmation concerning organ donation challenges the commonly accepted concept of racial divides and the hierarchy of white privilege.

However, the concept of “race” still dominates our social narrative. Historically, the concept of “race” was developed to establish a “white race” as dominant. The construct of “race” was from its inception, and still is today, about who has the right to privilege, power, status, and wealth, and who does not. It has become ingrained in our psyches. Contrived racial divides tyrannize us. The white privileged in our society decide who’s in and who’s out, who’s a criminal and who is not. People with dark skin are followed down store aisles as subjects of possible shoplifting. Their lives are at risk when they are stopped for a driving violation. We read stories of violent reactions to imagined threats from people who do not fit the privileged norm for skin color and clothing. People speaking with foreign accents or Arabic sounding language are feared to be terrorists. Many groups of people are considered untrustworthy as viewed by people with power and privilege.

We have checkpoints at border crossings and airports rife with similar mistrust. Our Congress has voted large sums of money to extend the wall between the United States and Mexico. President Trump has issued an executive order temporarily banning travel to the United States from six mostly Muslim countries. (The Supreme Court has ruled to put limitations on the ban until the Court can take up the case in their fall session).  Now he is attempting to revise U.S. immigration policy with rules giving priority to English speakers and those embodying certain values of the privileged. The lesson being learned, it seems, is that Muslims cannot be trusted and foreigners must be carefully scrutinized.

As an elder white male I live in this world of privilege. I can talk to the police without fear of being misinterpreted. I’m waved through border patrol checkpoints in Arizona. I’m frequently directed to the fast lane at airport security because of my age and profile as a white person of northern European descent. I can walk up and down the isles of any store without being followed. I don’t have to worry about wearing the right clothes to avoid appearing suspicious or dangerous.

However, in this social paradigm, we are all boxed into a contrived system of purity, superiority, and privilege for one particular group. The questions become, how black is black enough to relate to the pain in the cries that black lives matter? And how white is white enough to claim privilege and power? The answer to the second question is, any person with other than entirely white ancestry cannot claim to be white. The tradition in our society, and sometimes in the law, assigns all people of mixed unions to “races” defined as subordinate to the standard of the white privileged.

The way out of this box is to move into a new paradigm and live a place where racial constructs are an absurdity. It will be like moving from a flat earth society to a global community where there are no “pure” Native Americans, whites, blacks, Arabs, Asians… only human beings. It is time to embrace a future where people from different cultural, ethnic or geographical origins are free and encouraged to express openly the richness of their languages, cultures, spirituality, and historical origins without the stigma of coming from an inferior place.

Of course, while this paradigm emerges, continued support must be given to affirmative action and the “black lives matter” movement. A growing awareness of the absurdity of racial constructs will serve as a corrective to the white privilege from the old paradigm. Recognizing that there is no such thing as different races of people is a tool to be used pry away white privilege anytime it surfaces in jokes, fear, and social interaction or in access to education, equal justice, jobs, and housing.

The foundation of white privilege, like a house built upon the sand, will sooner or later fall. The reality of a common humanity is the way into the future of justice and dignity for all.   It behooves us to make it sooner.

_________________________________

The historical context of “race” comes from The Origin of the Idea of Race

by Audrey Smedley
Anthropology Newsletter, November 1997

 

Politically Correct

July 27, 2017

From twitter and Facebook to discussions in meetings or among friends there are more and more people interjecting into their communications, “I may come off as abrasive and insensitive, but you just have to accept me the way I am. I refuse to be “politically correct.” I’m an honest person who tells it like it is.”  The implication seems to be that others are too cautious, too accommodating, and too willing to soften the truth for the sake of maintaining comfortable relationships.

Upon closer examination, it seems there are two sources for this aversion to the political correctness. One source erupts from a sense of superiority over others; often expressed by people with economic and political power. These people are convinced that they have the ability to be more effective and make better decisions than co-workers, political leaders, or the general population. In the name of honesty they feel free to label others inept and use images denigrating their character.

The second source is the opposite of overactive superiority. It is the feeling of powerlessness. It is fed by frustrations of economic, political, or social impingements on daily living. Sometimes it’s change that threatens dependable and trusted rules and established ethics. At other times it’s distress over inadequate health insurance coverage or a bill collector demanding money that’s been allocated for the basics of food, shelter, and the children’s education. A demand to work overtime may overpower the promise to be at a daughter’s school play. And at other times the power of a government official, a national corporation, or the cable company overwhelms. This sense of powerlessness may erupt into anger toward a stranger or an immigrant perceived to threaten job opportunities, local customs, or to compromise privileges of citizenship.

At these times, angry words, labels, and accusations seem like a good idea. There is a sense of power engendered through name-calling, invective, derision, as well as with ethnic, religious, racial, or gender slander. How good it would feel to let it all out! And there is always the alternative option of associating with someone rich enough and brazen enough to hurl derogatory epithets without consequences!

However, I would suggest that these actions of bravado and unbounded ranting and raving never trump empathy, humility, and clear thinking. In fact, “political correctness” may not be pejorative. It may simply mean recognizing and honoring people’s sensitivities and dignity. Political correctness invites people into discussion: listening to concerns, discovering differences, and seeking ways to create common understanding. It includes the hospitality of Mr. Roger’s neighborhood, or Sesame Street. It recalls the stories of Dr. Seuss or watching the recently released film, Zootopia.   Basically, it doesn’t take a college degree or accumulation of wealth or the credentials of a “winner” to initiate these concepts we learned as children. And what about that old adage, “Count to ten before speaking?” This approach is not naive, weak, or gullible. One of the ways to make America still greater is to resurrect impulse control, particularly control of the mouth! To make America still greater is to do the work of a good neighbor.

The world is watching. Handala, a ten-year-old Palestinian boy, shows up in every political cartoon of Naji al-Ali. Handala stands with his hands clasped behind his back, looking with the viewer’s perspective, at each political cartoon. He is watching depictions of injustice in Israel, Palestine, the United States, and around the world. He’s the constant witness to the suffering of oppressed people everywhere. Al-Ali says that Handala will not grow up or turn around until there is peace and justice in the world. He is the conscience of the world.

What might Handala see in our country: an entourage speaking out with belligerence, belittling others unlike themselves, and relishing the bluster of bullies? Or will Handala witness evidence of the making of a still greater America?  I hope he will see my college cross country coach who insisted that whenever we passed an opposing team member during a race we talk to him, encourage him, and challenge him to pick up his pace and run with us. The result was we all ran faster, made personal bests, and contributed to a great race for all of us.

And I hope he will see the small discussion group of Muslims, Jews, and Christians meeting monthly in Concord exploring ways of justice and peace for all people. Perhaps he will see the Palestinian college students living in the West Bank seeking nonviolent ways to claim dignity while under Israeli occupation. And he will see a group of New Hampshire church people joining Minnesota Representative Betty McCollum’s initiative to write to President Trump, asking him to appoint a Special Envoy for 440 Palestinian children in Israeli military detention.

Handala will see people from many walks of life forming food co-ops and farmers’ markets to access affordable healthy food. He will see the hospitality Concord citizens extend to our refugee community and the help struggling people give to each other.   He will also see courageous volunteers from our country serving in Doctors without Borders, the Peace Corps, and working with refugees in Lebanon.

No matter who we are, how much or little education we have, to what social or economic class we belong; no matter our race, ethnicity, gender orientation, religious belief, or what skills we have or lack, we have contributions to make for a greater America. We belong to a people of dignity, each contributing out of our great diversity of beliefs, visions, and hopes. By sharing our insights, our struggles and successes, and voting for people who work for justice and dignity for every human being worldwide, we can make America still greater. If this describes “political correctness,” sign me up.