Whenever a tragedy occurs, it prompts us all to stop and think. We think
about why the tragedy happened, and what we can do to prevent it in the
future. We think about what’s really important in life. We think
about what we love and value the most, and how important it is to never
take those things for granted.
The recent shooting in Charleston, South Carolina has certainly made me do a lot of thinking. While the details are still coming out, one thing seems clear: the shooting was done out of racism and hatred. As of this writing, the most recent reports say that the alleged perpetrator admitted to the shooting in order to “start a race war.” Thank heaven those who live in Charleston didn’t take the bait.
There seems to be a rising trend of using violence to settle differences. With the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, and the rise of ISIS in Iraq, it sometimes feels as if the world only knows how to speak using the barrel of a gun.
All these events have inspired debates about racism, religious tolerance, national security, and gun laws. Thankfully, wiser people than me are tasked with solving these issues. Of course, I have my own opinions on them, as I’m sure you do. As I said above, whenever a tragedy occurs, it prompts us all to do a lot of thinking.
But here’s what I’m thinking: that we live in a country with a long tradition of using words, not ammunition, to solve problems. We must do everything in our power to uphold that tradition.
Senator Elbert Thomas of Utah once said, “The American system … is to use ballots, not bullets.” How thankful I am for that! It’s true that our country has its own problems. It’s also true that violent crimes happen here every day. But from the moment our Founding Fathers first took up their pens, every child born or raised between our two shores has been taught these principles:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
In the United States, many of us—hopefully most of us—grow
up knowing that everyone is different. We all look, feel, think, speak,
and worship differently. We accept it as a basic fact, just as we accept
gravity, or that the sun will rise in the east each morning. And because
we accept it, we know that differences in race, opinion, belief, or viewpoint
should be embraced rather than overcome. Because we are all created equal.
Sadly, the shooting in Charleston stems from an inability to accept those differences. The gunman seems to have believed those differences were a threat to him. That those differences meant his victims were inferior, or that they deserved to be punished. So whether he realizes it or not, this evil, ignorant human being attacked not only other humans, but a basic human right: the right to life, liberty, and happiness. The right to be different.
Instead of believing the truth—that all men and women are created equal—he believed a lie: that he was superior, and that his superiority was under attack. Instead of upholding our inalienable rights, he tried to oppose them. And that must never be allowed to happen.
Many people will propose different solutions over the coming weeks and months. This is what I propose:
Here in the United States, our right to be different has become encoded into our nation’s very DNA. It is stronger than the most vicious bullet. And it cannot be destroyed … so as long as we the people continue to uphold it. That’s why, as we all collectively bow our heads and mourn the many victims of violence around the world, the solution that occurs most strongly to me is to hold to the Declaration’s words more strongly than ever. Because they’re not simply words. All men truly are created equal. It’s not simply a historical document. We truly do have inalienable rights. The Declaration’s message is the beating heart of our nation. And as long as we remember it, honor it, teach it, and live by it, the evils of terrorism, racism, hatred, and violence can never win.
It’s always good to express gratitude for the important things in life … and given recent events, this seems like as good a time as any. I want you to know how much all of us here at IAC are grateful to work with people like you. I want you to know how grateful I am to work in this industry.
But most of all, I’m grateful to live in this amazing country. A country that allows me to be who I am. A country that guarantees my right to be different. A country devoted to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I pledge to do everything in my power to uphold those rights, both for myself and for others.