It is tragic but true that we humans have a regrettable capacity for hate and violence. The ruthless killing of 50 and the injuring of so many others in New Zealand is the latest evidence.

We in the leadership of the Catawba Valley Interfaith Council have had our hearts broken by this news. No words can express the sorrow we feel for the pain and loss suffered by so many as a result of this terrorist act. As hard as it is to do, it is worth stepping back and trying to understand both causes and cures for such violence toward innocent others.

There seems to be consensus that an ideology stoked by fear is one of the root causes of this destructive dynamic. We fear what we do not know, what seems “foreign,” what we think is a threat to our own well-being. In our present-day American society, this tendency seems especially targeted toward those in the Muslim community, although persons of other races and religions are certainly not immune, such as those of African-American, Jewish, and Hispanic heritage. While the susceptibility to associated ideologies of hate can develop and be spread in a viral manner in this era of electronic social media, it is fortunate that we humans also have an extraordinarily strong capacity for love and compassion; this is the key to the antidote for such toxic views.

As we creatively consider ways to exercise our compassionate pro-social impulses, it is imperative to address the problem of violence at the macro level in terms of societal policies. But, perhaps equally critical is to focus on healing efforts closer to home in the context of our own families and community. What can we, each of us, do in our daily lives to reduce the tendency toward viewing those who are different from ourselves as so great a threat as to justify verbal and/or physical attack? There are no easy answers, and action can be uncomfortable. But for a start, we can try to understand and accept the truth that what we have in common is vastly greater than our differences. We are more likely to discover this if we talk with each other and really listen to each other in order to try to understand where our needs and interests overlap.

Again, each of us has opportunities to do this. Let us therefore wake up and realize that the alternative is simply not acceptable in the long run if we humans are to survive and thrive on this single precious planet that we are so fortunate to inhabit together. Let us take responsibility and stand up for our true “in-group,” the entire human race.

This letter was submitted by William Keener of Sherrills Ford and signed by 13 additional members of the organization's board of directors.

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