WASHINGTON, August 25, 2014 — American culture is in the midst of transformation. We have a challenge before us unlike any in our time, perhaps even greater than the civil rights movement of the 60’s.
Then we were fighting for the rights of black America to be equal with white America. Now we are revisiting the same issues, but the root issues have become compounded in the five decades since. Hope seemed to die with the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. The nation has been in a cultural shock for five decades and is only now ready to be healed so we can move forward.
Today America buried 18-year-old Michael Brown, a victim of death-by-police officer in Ferguson, Mo. For some this young man’s death was just another day in the life of violence and crime in America; for others it was a signpost on the quest for justice; for others it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, a spark to ignite America’s day of reckoning, the turning point to bring about cultural changes that have been needed for a very long time.
We have seen deep into the heart of the country as a result of this needless killing and discovered terrible realities, conditions in the soul of man that run deep and have risen to the surface, forcing us to take stock of where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going.
The specific facts around the killing of Michael Brown are the subject for a grand jury and a trial. The case is deeper, though; poverty, unemployment, prejudice, hopelessness and racial superiority won’t factor into a trial, but they are also part of what happened. If we fail to understand how they contributed to Brown’s death, we will miss an opportunity to truly bring good out of this tragedy.
America is in need of transformation, not in need of more laws.
Laws are essential to creating peace and order, but they will never create change. Only when lives are transformed and we are able to see inside ourselves will we be able to put an end to the inequalities that divide us and foster behaviors that expose the worst in us.
English writer and philosopher Aldous Huxley, author of The Perennial Philosophy, said that when a culture feeds on sex and violence as entertainment, we are experiencing the last element of self destruction. Our movies, music, pornography, video games, and even corporate marketing campaigns combine sex and violence to entertain us; they have raped our culture in the same manner that human traffickers rape their victims. Fixing that should be at the forefront of our attempts to create cultural change.
The soul of a country is the collective soul of the people; it reflects their beliefs and desires. America’s beliefs and desires were once expressed in the Declaration of Independence and within our Constitution. Deciding that that is who we are as individuals is the first step to making the tenets of the Constitution live in our society. If we reject those tenets, we will never be all that we were meant to be; the words in our governing documents will be a dead letter.
If we do not work from a place of social, emotional, and financial equality, we put ourselves in separate boxes and wear labels that say to others, “This is my space. This is what I believe. Don’t come any closer.” As a nation, we seek for camaraderie within the same box; a multitude of boxes cause division, crime, separation, superiority, inferiority, social class and racial prejudice. They foster our lower nature and exacerbate social ills.
What will it take to affect cultural change?
We must transcend our current status or we will annihilate ourselves. Think back to the last seven days and write down every incident of violence, in word as well as in deed, you witnessed in your own circle of life; how many did you come up with? Is this list enough to make you want to examine how you might better equip yourself to prevent at least some of those incidents?
Greed, hate, prejudice, and the like have gone far to divide us into groups and create barriers to helping those most wounded heal from the worst of American culture. What will it take to affect cultural change? American historian, Anne Firor Scott said, “Leaders are indispensable, but to produce a major social change many ordinary people must also be involved.”
It will take all of us being honest about ourselves and transforming our own lives to change our own behavior. We need to define what the challenges are that we face, and then seek to understand relationships and accept our differences – and our commonality. It will take a change of mind-set where we can once and for all look someone else in the eyes and see ourselves through the walls we have built, the boxes we live in, the fears we have embraced, the ideologies we espouse, the masks we wear, and the lies we have believed about one another. It will take coming to grips with our own identity.
When we do this honestly, we will then be faced with a new challenge in protecting the rights of humanity by delineating between what is healthy and what is not healthy in order to protect us from our own selves. And we must be courageous enough to implement those changes laying down our own rights for the benefit of others. We can do this. We must do this!