Paris has been on my mind for the last week, as I’m sure it is for many others. Several years ago, I had the good fortune to spend a week in Paris. Coincidentally it was during a national election and it was very interesting to see how differently they conducted their election day. It was on a Sunday, and almost everything was closed (which made it difficult for a couple of vegans to find breakfast). The only places we saw people gathered were around the polling places. All else was quiet. It seemed that the process was treated with a quiet reverential dignity. During that election 83% of the French people voted. I felt privileged to be there to witness it.
Pop quiz: when was the last time the United States had a turnout like that?
Trick question! Never! The closest we ever got was in 1876. In my lifetime it’s hovered around 50%. We simply don’t take it seriously, either on election day or any other time. Political discourse in this country has become a perpetual exercise in Godwin’s Law, and even in the face of the vast tragedies occurring in Paris and other places, we all seem to revel in pointing fingers and calling each other names. We can’t stop for a few seconds and consider the fact that people of other political or religious beliefs are not monsters, but they are living, breathing people who, at their deepest level, are the same as us: we all want a peaceful and just world for ourselves and our children. Of course, recent events have shown that there are a few people people who are clearly monsters, who have no interest in such things, who will destroy anybody and anything to get their way. But I’m not sure we have enough discernment left to distinguish between the real and imaginary monsters, nor have enough civility left in us to engage in a meaningful discussion about how to deal with the real monsters, let alone enough courage to actually take some real actions to make the world a better place.
I have struggled for days to finish this post in some satisfactory way. But I don’t know if I can. I don’t know what the answers are, and most times I’m just trying to figure out the right questions. But while bombs may built with the hands, they are first built in the heart. Pay attention to what you’re building.