The tragedy last week in Charleston, S.C., in which nine people were murdered, has evoked a local, state and national response bathed in civility. In fact, what we have witnessed since the shooting on June 16, sets an example for the nation of the hope and promise that can come from collective demonstrations of civil behavior.
The tragedy that took place at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church began with acts of kindness and inclusion. The all black members of the Wednesday night Bible study group welcomed a white stranger at the door, Dylann Roof, the 21-year old who allegedly sat with them for an hour, studying scripture, before pulling a gun and shooting nine of the members dead.
Just days after the shooting, the families of the nine individuals who were murdered offered up a vital lesson for the nation on the power of civility. Roof appeared on screen at the bond hearing and, one-by- one, family members spoke directly to him on screen, forgiving him for what he did. To a person, these individuals, who spoke from places within of deep pain, abounding grief, offered prayers for Roof's soul and forgiveness for what he did.
And just yesterday, on the first Sunday after the shooting, the church held services as usual. The pews overflowed with members of the church and citizens who wanted to express their support. The Rev. Norvell Goff, Sr., a presiding elder of the church, told the worshipers, "No weapon formed against us shall prosper."
Across the city of Charleston yesterday, church bells rang and citizens came out to show the unity and peacefulness that has been the demonstrated response to the tragedy. Thousands formed a unity chain, holding hands in a line that crossed from Mt. Pleasant to Charleston across the Arthur Ravenel, Jr. Bridge.
And across the nation, prayer vigils and other demonstrations of unity sprang up spontaneously.
Through it all, civility is the overriding attitude that has prevailed. As we deal each day with global atrocities that have resulted in, according to a U.N. report, more than 60 million people fleeing their homes to seek safety and sanctuary in other countries, we can take hope in our own nation's demonstration of standing together, joining hands.
As the head of the National Institute of Civil Discourse, which was formed in the wake of the tragic 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, I have taken great heart in seeing what can be accomplished when we commit, together, to civility. Seeing pictures of the long lines of people holding hands, raising hands in unity, refusing the anger and revenge that only begat more violence, has provided a great sense of hope.
Together, we can become a more civil nation. While none of us choose to be subjected to such violent acts, we can choose how to respond. Citizens in Charleston and across the nation have demonstrated an enduring model for the power of civility. May we all be inspired by the response, and may we all bring acts of civility, both large and small, into our own lives and communities, each day.
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