Act to Overcome Hopelessness

By John Finnegan | November 5, 2018

Dear SPH Faculty, Staff, and Students:

I have written over the past several years about two major threats to public health: hate and violence. And I’m writing about them again.

I, along with thousands of other people, am struggling to make sense of the murders of two black people in a Kentucky grocery store, pipe bombs sent across the country, the slaying of 11 Jewish Americans in Pittsburgh, and a spew of vicious rhetoric aimed at several thousand people making their way toward the United States in the hope of a better life, for which this country used to serve as a beacon.

I am old enough to recall the hate and violence of many past decades. I struggle still to find any meaning in this tragic litany. Acts of violence directed at people whom we fear will take something away from us — our livelihood, our culture, our country, our pride — are as old as humankind. They are part of our country’s history, but that doesn’t mean we are powerless to overcome them. A rabbi from Pittsburgh was interviewed on television after the synagogue killings. The newscaster asked if he wanted to offer a prayer on the air, and the rabbi smiled and said, “You know, in the Judaic faith, prayer is a deeply personal thing, but we are a religion of action.”

We can do hundreds of things to counteract hate and to build and nurture a culture of acceptance in our country. We can find antidotes to fear and refuse to give in to hopelessness. I challenge all of us to commit to doing one positive thing every day that could change a life and change our country. That act can be as simple as shoveling your neighbor’s sidewalk, or as involved as tutoring a new immigrant. We can give money to causes that lift people up, march in the streets, write letters to the editor, and confront both blatant and insidious racism. Acts of kindness, solidarity, and courage have an immense ripple effect.

Tomorrow is a shining example of what the United States stands for — the right of each citizen to give voice to the direction we wish our country to follow.  It is our path of agency to shaping our collective future. We can choose people who are brave enough to stand up to fear and hate, no matter their political affiliation, or we can throw up our hands in despair. I urge you to choose the former. Act, vote, create the country you want for yourselves and for all of us. It would be easy to let hatred and violence rule the day, but who wants to live in that world?

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