Editorial: A message of hope
December 24, 2015
Here's a parable often attributed to the Cherokee:
An elder tells his grandson of a battle between two wolves inside us all. "One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed and resentment. The other is good. It is joy, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and bravery."
The boy thinks about it and asks, "Grandfather, which wolf wins?"
The old man replies, "The one you feed."
For this Christmas week, when another ancient story tells of an angel who advised shepherds to be not afraid, for she brought glad tidings of peace on Earth and goodwill toward men, let's take stock of what we are feeding.
We are at the outset of a presidential campaign in which some candidates are telling their audiences that we are in World War III, that ISIS wants to fly its flag over the White House, that people entering the country illegally are rapists and terrorists, that our country is no longer great.
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While terrorism and ISIS are real threats, let's stipulate that it is possible to exaggerate these dangers (and many others) for political gain.
Let's consider that a constant drumbeat of such exaggeration fails to feed that gentle side of joy and hope, empathy and humility. That it risks leading us to compromise our values as a nation, to become callous to huddled masses yearning to breathe free, to become mean-spirited and, worst of all, fearful.
People who are fearful lose perspective and make rash decisions.
Good choices require confidence, broad perspective and strategic thinking.
Let's start here: The United States of America is a truly great nation. Where would you rather live?
We're not losers, we're not weak and our leaders aren't stupid.
Yes, we face significant challenges and real threats — neither the United States nor the rest of the world is perfect nor risk free, and we have not achieved peace on Earth. This is not new.
If we measure our greatness by how we treat each other at home, our behavior today is much better than during slavery, the conquering of the frontier and Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, the time of Jim Crow or waves of discrimination against the Irish, Catholics, Jews and homosexuals.
In fact, one possible yardstick of our greatness might be whether we have learned from those times in how we today treat Muslims as a group or Latin immigrants as a group.
In the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt famously told Americans in his first inaugural address that "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself — nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes the needed efforts to convert retreat into advance."
A few sentences later, FDR said this: "Compared with the perils which our forefathers conquered because they believed and were not afraid, we have still much to be thankful for."
We would argue that is the case today — that the threat posed by Islamic extremists, while real, is certainly no greater than perils this great nation has faced and overcome before.
The nation divided and took up arms against itself in the Civil War, losing 620,000 lives. Then, as the fighting ended, it lost its president.
We lost another half million in World Wars I and II.
Polio crippled and killed tens of thousands. Each year, more than 30,000 Americans die from each of these: Traffic accidents, gunshots and drug overdoses, the bulk of the latter being from prescription opioids and their chemical sibling heroin.
Statistically, driving is far and away the most dangerous, life-threatening thing each of us does on a regular basis. The odds of an American dying in a traffic accident are more than 1,000 times greater than being killed by a terrorist. Somehow, though, we are not frightened to get in our cars and travel short and long distances.
Since 9/11, 45 people have been killed by Islamic extremists on U.S. soil. Counting 9/11, about 3,400 people have been killed by terrorism in the United States in the last 15 years — roughly 3 percent of the total killed each year by traffic accidents, guns and overdoses combined.
To be sure, we must work to neutralize ISIS, we must seek to identify and stop lone-wolf terrorists such as the San Bernardino attackers, and we must learn from our shortcomings, such as the failure to spot Tashfeen Malik's extremist views before letting her into the country.
We also must get our reaction to this threat into perspective and not let it lead us to rash decisions that cast aside our values as a pluralistic nation of immigrants.
Failure to do so — for example by choosing to spend more of our treasure and blood seeking to determine other countries' destinies, as we have failed to do in the long term in Iran, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq — will only help Islamic and other extremists, foreign and domestic, recruit others to their causes.
Being able to beat everyone up — or carpet bomb until sand glows — does not make us great. It makes lasting enemies and feeds the angry wolf's bloodlust.
Let us not live in fear. Let us recognize that we are a free people living in a great country. We have the opportunity, still, to be a beacon to the world. To do this, we must exercise goodwill toward men.
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