Saturday, April 29, 2017

Moral Courage Boot Camp

There have been reports of increases in hate crimes.  In New York, as of last December 14, hate crimes were up 6In New York, as of last December 14, hate crimes were up 63 percent over the same period in the preceding year. 

According to a radio report,[1] the Center for Anti-Violence Education is sponsoring training for “updstanders”:  people who will speak out when they see minorities being accosted because of their race, creed, color, sexual orientation or religion.  Here is an excerpt from the broadcast of December 22, 2016.

If you were to witness a bias-based attack or a hate crime, how would you respond?
It's something some activists are preparing some New Yorkers to be ready for, as reports of hate crimes in the city have increased since the election of Donald Trump. They are up 63 percent compared to the same period last year as of Dec. 14, according to the New York City Police Department.

Earlier this month, a man allegedly threatened to cut the throat of an off-duty police officer wearing a hijab. Two days later, a transit worker wearing a hijab was allegedly pushed down the stairs in Grand Central Terminal by a man who called her a "terrorist."

Christen Brandt, a trainer with the Center for Anti-Violence Education, wants more bystanders who witness attacks and hate crimes to become what she calls "upstanders" — people who will intervene rather than just walk away.

*  *  *  *  *
Recently, she helped train about a hundred people at a community center in Queens. They warmed up by repeating phrases they might use on a harasser, things like "Leave him alone!" and "You can't do that!"

But before you speak up, Brandt says it's important to stay level-headed. Then, figure out what's the safest way to take action.

"Are you behind the harasser? Are you in a position where you are in physical danger of being assaulted should the harasser decide to attack the victim?" she says.

Intervening as an "upstander," though, doesn't have to involve getting in a harasser's face. Brandt says there are more indirect strategies.

"If there are people around you, go up to that person and say, 'Hey! Do you see what's happening? Yeah? Can you call someone?' " she says.

You could ignore the harasser completely and instead engage the person who is under attack, or you could ask the harasser unrelated questions — about directions, for example — in an effort to distract the harasser.

Advocacy groups have been scrambling to hold more workshops for bystanders.

*  *  *  *  *
In New York, where the threat of danger has been heightened in the Muslim community, Mariana Aguilera of Queens says she finds comfort seeing so many of her neighbors training with Brandt at the community center.

"I'm a convert to Islam, so for the last 10 years I've been going through these experiences of harassment. And in these 10 years, I've never witnessed something like this in this room, people from different faiths and different walks of life coming together," she says.

They're all preparing to stand up against hate and violence, and that, she says, is an empowering sight to see.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Try a Little Kindness

For me, the lyrics of a song are just as important as the melody.  I like songs that tell a story or convey a message.  From time to time, I’ll write about songs that touch on tolerance in 
these blog postings.

Some time ago, I wrote about a transgender youth who had appeared before me in juvenile court.  I closed by saying that we should show a little kindness, instead of condemnation.

Whether serendipity or synchronicity, I heard Glen Campbell sing one of his wonderful country songs that had crossed over to the pop charts when I was in college.[1]  The song was number two on the country charts, and reached 23 on Billboard’s Top One Hundred.

The chorus of the song sums up the message for me:

You got to try a little kindness
Yes show a little kindness
Just shine your light for everyone to see
And if you try a little kindness
Then you'll overlook the blindness
Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.[2]
It’s a challenge any time to look at people’s actions in the most positive light, but perhaps more especially in these times.  It seems like the cable network news shows are full of “Narrow-minded people.”  It’s often hard to get past the yelling and invective displayed there. 

I’ve tried to find news outlets that are more or less balanced and unbiased.  I’ve suggested a liberal site and a conservative site that are tolerable and try to read at least a couple of articles from each on a more or less regular basis.[3]

But the simple message from this simple yet profound song is the real key to understanding:  Show a little kindness, a little respect, a little understanding.  Not everyone on the other side is a demon.  Most are good-hearted, well-intentioned folks who just have a different point of view than I do. 

And, really, this is more about me than them.  I need to “shine (my) light for everyone to see.”

[1] To hear Glen Campbell sing this song, click here.
[3] See the January 19 blog post

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Of all days, Holocaust Remembrance Day is the one that must remind all men and women of good faith why tolerance is such a crucial aspect to modern society. Six million men, women and children were slaughtered in the 1930’s and 1940’s in Nazi Germany simply because they were of a different race and a different faith.

The Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah) seeks to commemorate the Holocaust, a systematic and state-planned program to murder millions of Jews and other minority groups in Europe. This program of mass killing was run by the German Nazis in the 1930s and 40s during the Second World War, where Jews and minorities were brought into concentration camps and murdered at the hands of Nazi officials.

This observance seeks to remember and honor the victims of the Holocaust, including six million Jews and thousands of Russians gypsies, homosexuals, disabled persons and other minorities.[1]

When I served as Grand Master of Minnesota Masons in 2009-2010, I wrote a blog on my travels.[2]  Most Thursdays, I blogged on tolerance issues and on Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 21, 2009, I wrote this:

After the War, the cry went out: NEVER AGAIN!

And yet, genocide has happened again. And again, and again.

In Rwanda. In the Killing Fields of Cambodia. In Bosnia-Herzevogina. In the Sudan.

"All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." (Edmund Burke)

Masons[3] state that they are good men, striving to be better. It therefore behooves us to take a stand against intolerance, which is the first step toward genocide.
Light a candle tonight. Say a prayer for the victims of the Holocaust.
Pledge anew: NEVER AGAIN. And let’s mean it this time.[4] 

The sentiments are as true in 2017 as they were in 2009.  Intolerance is the first (of many) steps toward genocide.  And even if it were conclusively shown that it would not lead to genocide here and now, it still behooves men and women of good faith to call out and oppose intolerance.

[2] If you’re interested, you can still find those blogs at
[3] Jews were not the only group persecuted by the Nazis.  There were many, including Freemasons.
[4] The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website has an excellent article on the persecution of Freemasons and Lodges under the Nazi regime.  While nowhere near as horrific as the persecution of the Jews, it nonetheless is important.  See the web article here.