Today’s tragic shooting at the Empire State building in New York City saddens me on different levels. How do you make sense of this “senseless” violent shooting popping up everywhere? Not too long ago, there was a man who opened fire and killed six Sikhs at their temple in Wisconsin on August 5th and then just a few weeks ago we had the shootings in Aurora, Colorado that killed twelve people on July 20th. I don’t know if acts of violence like this happen regularly and media is now covering it more or if there is a real increase in shootings of this nature all across the country.
What I do know is that this is an ugly side of some of us–and an ugly reality. Back in the States I rarely listened to news because I knew it would only make me depressed. I was already stressed with my current day so why add more to my mental load? I think the hardest part of meditating and learning to love everyone with an open heart and mind is reconciling the dark side of human nature. I can rationalize natural disasters, but how do you love humanity when people think it’s okay to shoot someone because of his/her beliefs or race or simply because you “lost it”? I don’t have an answer. I just know that if you and I continue reaching out to people with genuine compassion, this pay it forward generosity might help someone along the way. Perhaps you will change someone’s prior stereotype or bring comfort in someone’s bitter life.
Yesterday we took a private tour of Cape Town with a Muslim who classified himself as a coloured or someone who traces his ancestry back to one of the African tribes, Indian, or Malaysian groups. Basically people who were not part of the white or Afrikaan race were classified as coloured. We were naturally curious about how apartheid affected him and others since he lived through the that horrific time. He explained that his children who never had to live through apartheid were patriotic and cheered for their South African sport teams. He rooted for the other team. He couldn’t forget. He couldn’t forget being forced to sell his house to the government for $200 US and having to start all over. He still remembers the unkindness.
Today we were driven by an Afrikaaner man to do a wine tasting tour and we passed by one of many areas with shacks. These were homes haphazardly put together by the poorer population to have a basic roof and a place to call home. Typically, a group of ten shacks will share one non-water based toilet. One of the Israeli tourists asked him about who lived in these shacks and what the government was doing to help. While he certainly was empathetic to the plight of the “coloured” people in South Africa, we could tell that it was a touchy subject. After a while, he told us he didn’t want to discuss this topic any further.
And yet, despite this sobering and painful reality, there is also an amazing story that emerged. What we also learned from him is that even though the government wasn’t doing enough about these shack communities, a group of Irish volunteers come each year to build homes for the people living in the shacks. This year alone, 500 Irish volunteers have built 75 low-cost homes as part of the Niall Mellon Township Trust and have been doing so since 2002. From inception date, these humanitarians have built 11,000 homes and do so at their own expense in over 90F degree weather. They have been a huge help to decrease the backlog of an estimated 2 million homes. In some years, thousands of people pour out of Ireland ready to build and sweat.
Actions like these is what makes humanity beautiful and teaches everyone–from the victims to the attackers–that it’s never too late to learn lessons and it’s never too late to change your mind about someone. There are people out there who really care. This is just one example we came across but it seems timely given what’s happened in New York.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
― Margaret Mead