BOSTON (CBS) – There is so much injustice in this world of ours that one is faced with a dilemma. From the vast list of unfair things that greet us every morning on the front page, what do we choose, where do we begin? From North Korea to Tucson, one could be despondent pondering the enormity of the problem of a few people wrecking the lives of so many. We’re faced with the foreboding sense that not only is civility or decency fading like a winter sunset, but the treatment of our fellow human beings by those seemingly without conscience has fallen below basement level.
And yet, being the put upon optimist that I am, there is reason to hold out hope. Perhaps just a little.
I recently interviewed Niyi Taiwo, founder of an organization dedicated to promoting respect in the workplace, at home, and in our broad culture. Read about his work at www.ektimis.com (Ektimis is derived from the Greek word, EKTIMISI meaning respect).
The essence of our talk centered on the “R” word and its implications beyond the Aretha song or Rodney Dangerfield. Respect, as Niyi and I discussed, begins at home, the most intimate of which is our live-in home, our soul. When we finally learn to respect and appreciate all that we’re given and hence can make available for others, there grows a sense of care, empathy and respect that at its core is tremendously powerful. Powerful enough to change lives in a big way. Niyi and others are working hard to remind us of that which we already know. That it is in our power to make things better, to show the rest of the neighborhood and ultimately the world that things don’t have to stay the way they are.
Two stories to share with you, both of which made news in suburbs west of Boston. The first involves the postponement of a special ceremony to commemorate the construction of a new ice skating rink in the town of Ashland. The 28×48’ rink was funded partly with help from the board of selectman and was truly a community effort involving the Ashland Coalition for Teens, the local carpenter union and many town volunteers. Several hundred folks were expected to show up for a celebration to open the rink with free skating on a perfect winter day. One hitch. Someone the night before smashed the ice up with a shovel, tore padding from the edges of the arena and even desecrated an Ashland town flag that been carefully embedded as a marker into the ice. A lot of kids and adults during the current cold snap would be out having a ball today were it not for uncaring vandals. Lots of planning and hard work was shattered in an overnight. But only temporarily. Town officials and residents vow to rebuild. As I pen this, there are no suspects but police are collecting evidence. The vandalism of the rink serves as an all too familiar reminder that there are a small number who lack any respect for property or concern for others. It’s a fact of life. I sure wonder what kind of kick the perpetrator(s) got out of smashing up the ice rink. My hope is he or she will read this and other accounts of the story and feel just a tinge of regret. All it takes is an eyedropper’s worth of caring from someone who appears to care nothing for a guy like me to hold out hope. Story number two involves just such a tinge.
A few weeks ago, the town of Framingham lost one of their bravest, firefighter Mike Urban. He died from mesothelioma, a cancer of the lung wall lining caused by undetermined asbestos exposure. I suspect as most do that Mike contracted the disease in the line of duty. He was 57 and left behind a large and loving family along with many friends and colleagues. As is custom, the family was presented with Mike’s fire helmet, the piece of gear which protected him as he protected others. It’s a worn black leather helmet, the well respected symbol of duty and bravery that all of us need to honor, Urban’s highlighted by the number “2” he so proudly wore for decades. At his funeral, the Urbans were to receive the helmet, something they would protect and cherish in Mike’s memory. Urban’s nephew held onto the helmet while the family traveled in a limousine to the funeral. He forgot to return it to them immediately after the ceremony. Later that day, Ben Delaney’s car slid into a snow bank during a storm. He left the car to acquire a tow and within ten minutes someone had ransacked his automobile stealing golf clubs, a lap top computer and the firefighter’s helmet bearing the name Urban. The general consensus among family and friends was predictable. Nothing taken by the thief mattered except for the irreplaceable helmet.
The town and the firefighter’s association offered a monetary award for information leading to its return. No award had to be paid. An anonymous tipster phoned the Middleboro Police on Friday to tell them to look behind a closed fire station in the town. Look they did and that is exactly where the helmet was stashed. It was promptly returned to its rightful owners.
The family, along with Mike’s brothers in the Framingham Fire Department, rejoiced that the priceless object was coming home where it rightfully belonged. All because someone out there felt just enough of a tinge to make that anonymous call. We can only speculate on the motivation—fear, old-school biblical guilt, pressure from friends? Does it even matter? The story for many became one of those real teachable moments that insincere politicians tend to promote these days. Somebody had a change of heart.
I’d rather be an optimist who is sometimes wrong than a pessimist always in the right. So here you have two stories that highlight unfairness and injustice. One of these stories is still without resolution. Strike that. We may or may not catch the vandals who senselessly destroyed the skating rink. But the fact that the townspeople of Ashland are not deterred and will rebuild it with vigor keeps me on my bumpy optimistic path. Not giving into injustice, moving forward despite the abusive actions of a few is the kind of resolution we all need to emulate, one with which I have the utmost respect. I’m sure most people out there do.