Roger Wolfson has written speeches for presidential candidates, Senators, members of Congress and Governors. He also worked with former Senators Kerry, Liberman, Wellstone and Ted Kenney as a senate aide. Roger Wolfson gave this speech to honor a friend of his who died in the Twin Towers.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “There are no bystanders.” She meant that when an act of horror occurs, no one is innocent, because those who had the power to prevent the atrocity failed to act in time.
But before we decide what our leaders should have done differently, or should do differently in the future, shouldn’t we ask ourselves what each of us, individually, could have done differently, and can do differently in the future?
How much time have we each spent studying what is really going on around the world? Studying the causes of international discontent, brainstorming with our friends and families as to what could be done to aid disadvantaged peoples, how to prevent the harsh economics that often lead to religious fundamentalism? How have we sought to respond to the terrorist acts in other parts of the world that have not directly affected us?
How much time have we spent learning about other people’s religions? What have we done to break down the “us verses them” mentality that is the root of terrorism and most acts of cruelty, large or small? How much time have we spent breaking down our own hatreds, unearthing our own individual prejudices, and truly living lives of peace?
We all live in a single apartment building. Most of America, at this point in history, lives in the Penthouse. But the privileged go up and down in our private elevator, so we do not hear the cries of those suffering downstairs, we do not address the bitterness caused by our demonstrations of opulence. Even though we know that poverty, want, and ignorance are the breeding grounds of violence, we pretend that their problems do not affect us. But their problems are ours, and if we ignore them, we leave them with the option of setting fire to the basement. When someone, anyone, lights a fire, the flames burn upward, and cannot be extinguished.
Developing relationships with people of traditionally opposing views in dangerous regions of the world is nowhere near as dangerous as avoiding such relationships. But these efforts are best if they are individual, if they come from each of us separately. This is a responsibility too great to be delegated.
Why do we expect our leaders to take care of such important issues? To sustain my metaphor, why appoint a superintendent? What’s stopping us from, individually, getting involved?
Because it’s certainly a fallacy to think that our government, with weapons and anger and an insatiable need to prove itself, is going to cure world-wide terrorism. And, since it is uniformly predicted that terrorists will one day have nuclear weapons, then by delegating the responsibility of addressing these threats to an entity that is bound to fail, we are simply biding time until our own destruction.
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t react strongly to terrorist acts, perhaps with force. But if that is our only reaction, we do more harm than good. Quick example: which would cost more, providing a proper elementary and secondary education to the children of impoverished nations, or cleaning up after the damage they wreak on the environment in order to feed themselves, harboring their refugees from their civil wars, and repairing the holes in our society rent by the terrorists that rise up among them? Quick example: clearly, the 911 attacks were intended to provoke a military reaction; why would we play into the hands of those who attacked us by doing what they want us to do?
Indeed, what is needed is a revolution. But there can be no leader in this revolution. It must be a spiritual revolution, starting and ending with each individual. Each of us must make peace – from within. Each of us must take personal responsibility for acts of suffering on our own shores and elsewhere in the world. Each of us must determine how we, personally, can make a difference.
Only thus can lasting peace be born
Dedicated to Chris Murphy. Farewell, my friend.