• 111th International Peace Meditation “Hearing the Unspoken Rights”

    “Hearing the Unspoken Rights”

    March 5, 2006 — It is the right of every child to grow up in a loving family.

    It is the right of every family to expect a community that supports their growth and development.

    It is the right of every community to expect a state that has laws that provide protection and address basic needs.

    It is the right of every state to expect that the national government will not attempt to supersede rights that have been explicitly given.

    It is the right of every national government to expect that all citizens will exercise their rights as delineated.

    It is the right of every child to expect that her/his parents will live as model citizens, loving companions, and supporters of freedom.

    These may be our rights. But what happens when they are not met?

    When is justice truly justice? When is it simply revenge? How do we define justice? Is justice always just? Why are their so many interpretations for every decision? Why are there so many steps to freedom? Why are we unable/unwilling to address the social issues that eventually lead to the breaking of our laws that protect the many? How do we balance the rights of the individual against the rights of the many? When do we stop and reflect upon what we have created and ask the essential questions: Is this the justice system that we want? What do we like? What needs to be changed? Where do we begin?

    Recently I wrote questioning the death penalty. The event that triggered that writing was the execution of Stanley “Tookie” Williams. The question of whether the State should be given the right to execute those found guilty of the most heinous of crimes still concerns me. The question of who has the right to give and who has the right to take away is basic to all of our freedoms.

    Life itself is precious. Giving birth to a child is awe-inspiring. Seeing the continuity of life is exhilarating. Poets, composers, priests and laymen never cease to see the miracle in birth. What happens when over the years that miracle turns into a nightmare?

    We may not know the cause when terrible crimes are committed, but we do know many of the contributing factors. Mental health issues resound as unmet needs seeking expression. Have we dealt adequately with mental health issues in our society? If so, why do we have our young people turning to alcohol and drugs to cope?

    Have we dealt adequately with drug abuse issues? Have we found the answer or answers to curing addiction? Do we see addiction as illness? Do we blame the victim? What do we believe about addiction? What are the actions that reflect society’s belief about addiction?

    What do we believe about human rights? Do we believe that each person has certain rights regardless of the long list of characteristics that have often led to discrimination? Why do we distinguish between hate crimes, crimes of passion, premeditated, and other crimes? Is it because we recognize that crimes are often committed during moments of extreme lapses of mental health?

    What is mental health anyway? If we hide our behaviors, and appear healthy, does that really indicate mental health? If not, does that explain why sometimes those in leadership position fall from popularity when their mental health issues come to light?

    There are so many questions that remain without answers, or with only partial answers. What is the belief system that under girds our justice system? Is it “eye for an eye?” Surely at times it seems so. What is our bloodthirstiness that requires the death penalty for one who killed? Is it the same belief system that opposes adequate relief for the disabled, equal rights for those with different sexual preferences, and equal rights for those of religious groups from whom some aberrant members have brought terror upon others?

    What do we believe? Perhaps we should start with what we do believe instead of focusing on dealing with aberrant behaviors and whether what we mete out is punishment or consequence. I’ll start with what I believe, in the hopes that you will be inspired to do the same.

    I believe in the value of the human spirit. I believe that every person is inherently good. I believe that evil, or fear, exists, and when love is absent, fear or evil take precedence. I believe that love can conquer fear, and that we have the obligation to extend love to all, including the unlovely as we individually define it. Out of our own backgrounds we may have been acculturated to exclude some groups as unequal, undeserving, even unlovable. It is our responsibility as adults to examine those societal stereotypes, and to recognize them as such. It is also our individual responsibility to work to remove hate and indifference toward any person. It is our responsibility to attempt to rehabilitate every offender, no matter how offensive the act. Where we cannot rehabilitate, we must prevent further offenses. But we are not the Provider of life, nor should we decide to obliterate life. The final Arbiter will have that decision. Humans do not create life; they create the opportunity for life. They must not take away life; they must create the opportunity for life lessons.

    The recent decision by medical professionals to refuse on the grounds of ethics to administer lethal injections for execution is to be applauded. I would not expect that the same person who could administer death would be equally committed to supporting life. Can one person be equally committed to both? I don’t think so.

    The need for a death penalty is evidence of our inability to adequately address social issues leading to aberrant behaviors. Unmet needs, child abuse, inadequate mental health supports, and discrimination are parts of the equation that needs revision. Until then, use of the death penalty is our own admission of our inability to responsibly care for our children—and they are all our children.

    They are all our children. Regardless of race, culture, ability or disability, social class, religious upbringing, health or illness, or any other condition, they are all our children. Inadequate healthcare and unequal education are the responsibility of us all. Anger at unmet needs will be expressed. And it won’t be pleasant. We need to review our systems—starting with our individual belief systems, our beliefs about others different from ourselves, our beliefs about what constitutes an adequate education and adequate healthcare including mental healthcare, and our beliefs about what we expect from our justice system. Until we do, we will continue to act based upon an outmoded “eye for an eye” belief system without enlightenment about the consequences of unmet needs.

    Those of us who lead have the ultimate responsibility. We must lead with what we Know to be right instead of following the crowd mentality of righteous indignation that leads to only more violence. Violence is violence. It is not right in one situation and wrong in another. It is wrong. When we use the death penalty, we not only commit violence upon the offender, but we commit violence upon the family and friends. We commit violence upon society as a whole. And we commit violence upon our own soul.

    I have been characterized as a pacifist. That is not correct. I do not believe in peace at any price for I have learned through my life lessons that it does not work. Peace often has a price. However, I believe in the value of the human spirit and its need to be nurtured in order to grow and develop, and to make a positive contribution to society. Without adopting this belief and the consequent changes in our behaviors, we can expect only more of the same.

    Violence begets violence. ‘We cannot destroy violence; we can only create peace.’

    Peace begins in our hearts, is expressed in our belief systems, and demonstrated by our actions. Our justice system needs revision now. Responsibility for societal unmet needs rests upon each of us. It is time for change.

    This meditation is dedicated to the children of poverty who have escaped our societal blessing, and upon whom we must focus. If we do not focus upon their unmet needs, violence will only continue and escalate, and there will be no chance for peace and prosperity among any of us.

    Sue Kidd Shipe, Ph.D.
    Executive Director

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