We must all work to make this world worthy of its children.
- Pablo Casals
A family member of one of the victims in Newtown commented, "Evil has visited this community." In 2012, a year of unprecedented mass killings, it has become apparent that evil does exist. But so does goodness. One of the pastors on the scene in Newtown said, "If we believe in evil, then we must also believe in goodness - they are polar opposites."
In the wake of the mass killing of 20 children and seven adults, there are those who will advocate for more gun control and others who will advocate for dealing more effectively with mental illness. Both approaches are needed. But I believe another approach is also needed. With a background of 19 years training 65,000 teens to build cultures of kindness, caring and respect wherever they go, I believe we need more people to advocate for values, goodness and love.
The values of America were on display at the memorial service for the victims of Sandy Hook. As President Obama said, "A quiet town of good and decent people...inspires us with their strength, resolve and sacrifice....They looked out for each other, cared for each other and loved each other."
During this presidential election year, we often talked about America as a divided nation. We fretted that we couldn't find common ground. But it's abundantly clear to me, especially now, that the love we have for one another is our common ground. The goodness of neighbors helping neighbors -- whether getting to a doctor's appointment or getting through a horrible tragedy -- is the America we know and the America most want to see. This is an America where our similarities outweigh our differences, where we are inspired and connected through our core values, and where people help other people get through the day. The example of a compassionate America needs to be held up and replicated every day.
This time of year, we see lots of great examples. From the dollar bills placed in Salvation Army buckets outside of grocery stores; to the increased giving to food pantries, soup kitchens and homeless shelters; to the decision by the American League Champion Oakland Athletics to contribute each player's championship bonus to local charities. We saw goodness displayed by the New York City police officer who purchased shoes for a panhandler.
The television stations, newspapers and magazines are dripping with goodness. CNN and other media outlets focus heavily on unsung heroes who light up communities through their kindness and generosity. People Magazine issued a Special Report: Heroes of the Storm, telling stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to help neighbors and communities that were hard hit by Hurricane Sandy.
When we see the news stories of the Sandy Hook teachers -- both the dead and the surviving kids, we're awed and inspired by their service, sacrifice and unconditional love. They're the disciples of decency, and we want to be more like them.
So why is this image of America's common goodness not sustained all year long? Why do we all feel that people are nice during Christmas and indifferent the rest of the year?
Most of the goodness that we see in our 24/7 media-driven society is situational or seasonal -- responses to a school shooting, a natural disaster or Holiday cheer. The rest of the year, the news profiles negativity and evil, competing with goodness and cheer for attention and believability. An audit of the daily news does not show the world tipping toward goodness and love. Aside from a few moments at the end of the NBC Nightly News, we seldom see examples of moral role models. And in a society where we believe what we see the most, we believe that a world of goodness is not possible.
In the recent news, we saw evil in the case of the freelance photographer who snapped a picture of a man who had been pushed in front of a New York City subway train, making no effort to save him and, then, selling the pictures to the New York Post. Equally, we saw evil in the form of the profit motive when the Post decided to show the picture on the front page, boasting the headline, "Pushed on the Subway Track, this Man is About to Die."
In every day life, goodness competes with road rage, school and workplace bullying, and in-your-face coarseness, crudeness and meanness. There is an undercurrent of disregard and incivility -- on the streets, in the schools, in financial markets, in customer service, in politics, and in customer behavior, as well. This din becomes our reality, juxtaposed on occasion with the reporting of heroes, heroics and goodness.
Tragedy changes all that. All of a sudden, we are focused on goodness and love. We see candlelight vigils, neighbors and strangers equally going out of their way. We identify with what we see, and we know that this is reality - the other is the illusion.
At the memorial service for the victims, President Obama said that, "There's only one thing we can be sure of that's right -- and that's the love we have for our families, for our children and for each other."
So let's embrace the love and extend it beyond just this moment. Imagine that through goodness and love, we each can make a difference and that our ripples will go far and wide. Like balancing on the scale, depending on which way we lean, perhaps we can tip our nation toward goodness or evil, decency or indecency, love or hate. Maybe, through our daily actions, we can short-circuit the next shooter before tragedy strikes again.
If we want to sustain a nation of goodness, one that defies evil, maybe we should embrace the unfiltered missive given by Robbie Parker, whose 6-year-old daughter Emilie died at Sandy Hook: "May it be that this inspires us to be better, to be more compassionate and more humble people -- to better our communities -- at all times."
Newtown just pressed the reset button on a divided America. Now it's up to us.
Muszynski is President & CEO of Project Love® Remember the Children Foundation, a character-development non-profit organization that has trained more than 65,000 teens to build cultures of kindness, caring and respect by putting their values-in-action wherever they go. To see how Americans connect on the values of Love and Respect, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us.