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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

My Way

A letter on the editorial page of our local newspaper reminded me that it is all too easy to see the world through the narrow aperture of our personal values. The author, self-described as an 80-year-old male, was weighing in on the violence and divisiveness that assails us daily and just recently occurred in our community with the random shooting death of twelve individuals.

The root cause of all this violence, in the words of the author, is a lack of personal responsibility. He goes on to say that owning guns is not the issue—it was not when he was a young man and is not today, but rather the lack of good parenting. Yes, you heard that right. He went on to observe that the seeds of our present circumstance had to do with women moving into the workforce during the second world war and staying there because they enjoyed the money and power, resulting in a lack of parenting that would instill the right values in our young people.

Where to begin. There are so many things wrong with these sentiments that you may be, as I was, tempted to simply dismiss them as the ramblings of a senile misogynist, a terminally unenlightened individual who has been living in a dark cave of ignorance. But dismissing him and the thoughts he expressed only contributes to the same cycle of polarization that we see occurring every day in our world. So, I made an effort to scrape off the layer of ill-informed prejudice and simplistic meanderings to get to the substance of the argument. There is of course a kernel of truth buried deep in the midst of the author’s rant. It has to do with the acceptance of personal responsibility for our actions and the boundaries of our rights as individuals as it bears on the rights of others.

When people offer simplistic solutions such as those described above, they are in effect saying—the world would be better off if everyone were like me. Asserting one’s own values, faith and moral stance as the only right and acceptable view is at the heart of all human strife. Let us not forget that every oppressor has asserted his or her right, generally by virtue of a ‘God-given’ authority to enslave, demean, subjugate, and even kill those who do not believe as they do. We are only a few hundred years away from open warfare between western religions and in the midst of a so-called holy war between western faiths and values and those of many other countries. Our own country was born out separatism, both religious and civil.

It isn’t even as simple as keeping to our ‘own kind’ as some would have it. We can no longer wall ourselves off from those who do not subscribe to our views. Most of us believe our way is the right and only way, with the result that we will inevitably clash with anyone whose way departs from ours, even if the friction is limited to philosophical or verbal disagreement. It is only when we operate within the constraints of rules and laws that protect the rights of others that we can be free to practice our own way of life.

When our leaders, political and otherwise, condone or even incite discord by singling out some individuals, groups, faiths or races through their explicit or implicit actions they betray the very essence of what led us to conceive of a place that embraced all faiths, creeds and viewpoints. Within the framework of what is described as certain inalienable truths, the wisdom of our foundational charter serves as a litmus test for all ensuing law and rule. Notably, it speaks to our individual rights, in the context of our obligation to the whole—to others.

And this is the point of agreement I found with the misguided author. We are responsible for our actions, and accountable to one another. My way can only exist within a framework that ensures respect for the welfare of all. We must not permit those whose desire for power, money, or anything else to corrupt that principle, no matter the exigencies of the moment. Our authority is not, ‘God-given’, only humans could conceive of such perfidy.

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