Sunday, September 24, 2017

Sticks and stones

I discovered a surprisingly compelling and relevant story recently while channel surfing and landing in the jaws of ABC-TV's "Shark Tank." A 16-year-old Asian-American girl was pitching a groundbreaking technology to the cast of carnivorous investors. Astonishingly, she had created a smartphone or desktop app that could pump the brakes on social media bullies. She demonstrated how the software could identify hurtful and aggressive language and pause a post before it went live. It would caution the author of the nasty comment and urge them to reconsider.

Of course, the user had the freedom to go forward with his or her verbal assault, but the software was designed to make people think about the consequences before launching wordy weapons.

This software targets parents of preteens and teens as well as schools that are tasked to take steps to prevent bullying. However, after the flurry of stories about the Twitter assaults in the news this past week, I'm wondering if this parenting technology would be helpful in taming the egos of many adults, including pro athletes and those in high office.

I remember when e-mail first became available and people cautioned about sending certain types of messages that were better delivered on the phone or in person. Communications is a dance with certain social graces, not to mention non-verbal cues that help to frame our emotions and provide context to the words. And in this era of FaceTime and Go-To-Meeting capabilities, a real eyeball-to-eyeball visit to a client, friend or family member remains the ultimate way to share, especially for delicate matters. 

For many, social media has become anything but social and provides an easy way for boys and girls to hide behind fences while they sling rocks and arrows. We seem to have forgotten that kindergarten chant, "sticks and stones can break my bones but names with never hurt me." 

Maybe because we have lost our way on many larger matters. 

One of the most memorable and important events I've encountered in my sixty years was a meeting between an assassin and his target. It took place in an Italian prison, when then Pope John Paul II visited the man who had shot him. One bullet had hit his elbow, the other his stomach brining the pontiff to the brink of death. Yet, after he recovered, he found the courage to forgive Mehmet Ali Agca and tell him so personally. The two became friends; the pope stayed in touch with his assailant and even requested a pardon for him. While in prison, the shooter converted to Christianity.

His conversion isn't surprising with the example St. John Paul set. Regardless of your faith or disbelief, consider this wisdom from the late pontiff: "Humanity should question itself, once more, about the absurd and always unfair phenomenon of war, on whose stage of death and pain only remains standing the negotiating table that should have prevented it."

Whether it's a war of words between family members, political groups in a country or leaders volleying salvos across the globe amidst nuclear tensions, we have to ask ourselves: "Why don't we just sit down face-to-face and hash this out?"

I think President, Donald J. Trump, and NBA star, Stephen Curry, both missed that point this week. And it's surprising, because jocks typically honor a code that keeps their disagreements private and in the locker room. And  during his campaign, Mr. Trump proved he's very familiar with locker room talk. If only they had agreed to meet to share a sandwich and discuss their differences. And if someone refuses your invitation, always leave the door open. By the way, rumor has it  that North Korea's Kim Jung-un loves steak and sushi.

No matter how much you revile the other side, each opportunity to engage an adversary in conversation is a chance to better understand and be understood. For example, since 1995, a grass roots movement comprised of Israeli and Palestinian families had fought for peace between the two nations, Uniquely, every one of the members of this non-violent, non-governmental organization had lost a close family member in the bloodshed. The two sides were equally represented. 

By 2012, the Parents Circle - Families Forum (PCFF) had recruited more than 600 Israeli and Palestinian families to build a reconciliation infrastructure and participate in a continuous dialogue. They believed this was essential to achieve any lasting future negotiated peace. Members shared their grief, resentment and emotions in face-to-face meetings where they had come to identify with the suffering of the other side – and discover the futility of perpetual conflict.
PCFF had worked diligently to avoid using bereavement as an excuse for retribution. Palestinian and Israeli families jointly conducted dialogues in schools and reached 25,000 students annually. Their goal: influence the public and political decision makers to choose peace. Their message: empathy and understanding.
In the Holy Land, the healing power of forgiveness had already restored serenity, while bombs and bullets continued to kill.
Here in the United States, protesting is undeniably an American tradition and defining principle. However, whether you're taking a knee during the national anthem, boycotting a business for practices you abhor or standing up against another injustice, we must always be open to dialogue.  Non-violent demonstration enabled Gandhi to liberate India and the likes of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to elevate the civil rights movement to the mountain top
In Jesus' day, tax collectors were considered exploiters and scum while Samaritans were reviled as heretics. Yet, Jesus conversed and dined with them both. In fact, he made a tax collector named Matthew his disciple and he spent two days with a Samaritan woman and her people. It was at least the equivalent of a Hatfield sharing a jug and an apple pie with a McCoy. 
But if you're not swayed by the Bible, don't forget this 20th century event of biblical proportions. the Cuban missile crisis. That atomic stare down between U.S. President, John F. Kennedy, and Nikita Khrushchev, of the Soviet Union, finally ended when back channel negotiations achieved a breakthrough and both sides gave something to secure peace. 

"Why don't we just sit down face-to-face and hash this out?" Adults shouldn't need an app for that.

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