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The Time Is Now to Make a Difference

by on July 12, 2016 5:00 AM

"I am mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

That is one of the most famous lines in cinematic history from the 1976 movie "Network." It is still applicable today. It describes precisely how I feel about what is going on in the world, especially given the events of the past week with the shootings of young black men in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis, the Dallas police massacre, and the most recent shootings in Decatur, Ill. and in a courtroom in Michigan.

Well, we are there! The tipping point. This is our collective wake-up call.

What is wrong with us? What else is it going to take? Where have we gone wrong? What is it going to take to turn this country around? 

We need to care. The time is NOW to be a difference-maker, every day, each and every one of us.

Why am I so fired up? Because I woke up at 3 a.m. this past Saturday morning, turned on the news and was horrified at what I saw. Not just the reports of the shootings and the aftermath of the Dallas massacre, but also people’s reactions to the violence of the past week.It disgusted me.

There were a few moments of hope.

I turned on Fox News to see an interview with South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott. He has dealt with the aftermath of the Charleston church massacre.

"Bridge the gap and walk in other people's shoes," Sen. Scott started. “In Charleston, we had a person wanting to start a race war. In Dallas, we had a man wanting to kill white people. We had people filled with hate looking for ways to express it in the most dangerous and violent ways possible. In Charleston, we've seen a coming together of folks looking for ways to bridge the gap. To walk in someone else's shoes for a few minutes to understand, is such an important part of healing and restoration.”

I switched over to CNN to hear Dr. Cedric Alexander, a civil rights expert, speak, and he said, "Over the years, there has actually been tremendous progress (in race relations). But there is no end point to it. It needs constant nurturing.”

Murdered Dallas police officer Patrick Zamarripa's father was interviewed. He talked about his son as a U.S. Navy veteran who served three tours in Iraq and was a father of two who just wanted to serve his country. I watched his father break down in tears and felt a pit in my gut.

In an emotional interview back on Fox, David O. Brown, Dallas Police Chief, said, "We don't feel much support most days. Please, let's not make this most days. Please, we need your support."

Sen. Scott continued, “The opportunity for us to dig in a little deeper and have some very uncomfortable conversations about race in America but let's not find a way to make killing cops a part of that conversation because that is absolutely unequivocally without any question wrong.”

Mike Rawlings, Mayor of Dallas, said of the shooter, “Justice has been served on this young man.”

As ugly as things seem we cannot give up. We have the ability to take ownership and create an environment where our children can feel safe. It starts with the basics like treating each other with common courtesy and mutual respect and holding each other accountable.

Why? Because we have to care.

There are simply too many people who will put their head in the sand or choose to ignore reality about the divide between race and wealth in our country. There are not enough proactive efforts taking place to come up with pragmatic solutions that really work and won’t just be done to appease people in the short term. We seem to only respond reactively and only after some shocking event hits close to home.

Why does the sanctity of human life mean so little to some? How have we become so desensitized to hate and violent crime? 

There will always be good and evil in this world and I certainly don’t profess to have all the answers to what ails us. I know this: Apathy isn’t the answer. Only positive, extraordinary efforts on the part of ordinary people will make a lasting difference.

I wonder if we tried to start a nationwide “Day of Reconciliation” or a “No Hate Day” that included millions of volunteers working to promote civility, empathy and collaboration for just a day, would you join in?  Imagine a “Day of Caring” across the nation promoting meaningful conversation and cooperative projects to improve impoverished neighborhoods.   

What if we refused to watch any form of violent programming or put down our video game controls and boycott violent games? Or would the cynical haters and negative disrupters drown out those who respect one another.

I know, I am going to irritate some folks who think I am being naïve, but isn’t it about time to give a damn?

Where is the respect? Where is common sense? Where are the real leaders when we need them?  We have incredibly bright people in this country and it is time for them to stop playing politics and start being a part of the solution. When our Presidential candidates act like children and spoiled brats and spew hate back and forth, what example does it set? 

We need to demand reform of the criminal justice system and to develop better pay, recruitment, and training for police and other first responders, and we must improve the education of our youth (and teach them self-respect and to respect the law).

Where have we gone wrong and who gets the blame? Education? The media? Churches, synagogues and mosques? Parents? Government? Most certainly we as individuals have not done our part. There is a sense of entitlement over sense of accomplishment and self-respect.

Are we going to keep kicking the can down the road? I fear too many of us will go back to our daily lives and the incidents of the past week will quickly fade.

I know I have not done enough to be part of the solution. I have always said that when I get my youngest through college and I am retired, I will do my part then "when I have more time." Well, if we all think that way, it may be too late. So I have to look in the mirror and figure out how I can make a difference and try to inspire others to make a difference. 

Perhaps it starts with tuning out the violent TV shows and movies. Maybe put down the sports section and watching fewer games. Volunteer more for those in need. Write more letters to our politicians in support of real government reform, education reform and intervention programs. 

Ironically, our new Pastor at St. Paul’s, Greg Milinovich, delivered a version of “The Good Samaritan” Gospel sermon. He asked us, “Who is your neighbor? In the context of this past week's events, everyone is afraid of everyone else. Who do you trust? Love God and love your neighbor.” 

It’s a start.

I saw a Facebook posting by a young black woman who entered a convenience store where two white police officers were getting coffee. After they made awkward eye contact, the police officer said, “How are you? It's been a tough week for all of us hasn't it?” The young lady said, “Yes it has.” The officer hugged her and she cried. He said, “We all have to do a better job.” She said simply, “Yes we do.” 

We need more difference-makers like Officer Tommy Norman of the North Little Rock Police Department. Check out the video on his Facebook page and share it with all your friends.

As I succumbed to my need to get some sleep at 5:30 a.m., my last vision on TV was a commercial for the “Mobile Strike” App. A familiar voice urged the viewer to "Download and play free now!"  

Here is a simple request.  Tune out the death and destruction stuff today and volunteer to help make a difference.

Joe Battista has been an integral part of the Penn State and State College communities since 1978. He is best known for his effort to bring varsity ice hockey to Happy Valley and in the building of Pegula Ice Arena. “JoeBa” is the owner of PRAGMATIC Passion, LLC consulting, a professional speaker, success coach, and the vice president of the National Athletic and Professional Success Academy (NAPSA). He is the author of a new book, “The Power of Pragmatic Passion.” Joe lives in State College with his wife Heidi (PSU ’81 & ’83), daughter Brianna (PSU ’15), and son’s Jon (PSU ’16), and Ryan (State High Class of 2019).
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