Thursday, July 18, 2013

Causeless Hatred, Trayvon Martin and Graffiti

I write this following the saddest day of the Jewish year, the ninth day of the month of Av, anniversary of a host of calamities and tragedies afflicting the Jewish people. Remembered as most tragic were the losses of the two great Temples in Jerusalem. The second Temple, a place Jews believe God interfaced with man, was destroyed due to the people's "causeless hatred."

Now, some people will relate this to George Zimmerman, acquitted Saturday of the second-degree murder of Trayvon Martin, a verdict that fomented discontent in many quarters--my hometown of L.A. among them. Ironic that anger against "causeless (racial) hatred" should erupt into property destruction and even violence.

Zimmerman verdict confrontation in L.A.
Equally sad are the murders of so many other victims whose ends earned far less publicity than the Martin case. An analysis eleven months ago by the Wall Street Journal notes, "Mr. Martin's death is a racial aberration, according to data kept by the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Law-enforcement officials nationwide are battling a far more widespread and intractable problem: the persistent killing of young black men by other young black men."

The piece goes on to say, "Although the U.S. murder rate has been dropping for years, an analysis of homicide data by The Wall Street Journal found that the number of black male victims increased more than 10%, to 5,942 in 2010 from 5,307 in 2000.
Overall, more than half the nation's homicide victims are African-American, though blacks make up only 13% of the population. Of those black murder victims, 85% were men, mostly young men." Ninety-four percent of murders of black victims, the article notes, are perpetrated by other African-Americans.
Where is the outrage over those deaths, of far greater number than the "racial aberration" in the Zimmerman case? Why should a lost life be mourned less because it was taken by someone of the same race?
The Jewish day of sadness that occurred yesterday recalls the destruction of our holy places and the holocausts decimating the Jewish people throughout the centuries. An antidote to the behaviors drawing God's anger has to do with eliminating the causeless hatred that exists among our people today. The goal is unity and harmony, and that goal rests upon respect for one's fellow.
Which brings me to the travel I just completed. When friends ask for my
A photo I took in Athens
most vivid memories of Israel and Greece, I immediately picture the surprising amount of graffiti I saw in both Tel Aviv and Athens. In the year since my last visit to Tel Aviv, and in the decades since my last Grecian sojourn, both places have revved up, with more people scurrying on sidewalks, more motor scooters zipping in the streets, more noise, and more visual congestion. People overlap their spaces to an uncomfortable degree.
In Greece, where we learned the unemployment rate is 36%, families squeeze into apartments, share more meager repasts, shop less and grumble a lot. They're also taking out their frustrations with spray cans, laying slogans on top of tags, ever more elaborately. Nobody bothers to cover the burgeoning graffiti; in moments it would be reinstated, but even without repainting, the displays grow ever larger and thicker. Tags and drawings cover every sort of structure, even defacing Greek and Byzantine antiquities.
My photo in Athens, a nice downtown neighborhood
What this suggests is a loss of respect for others' property, and perhaps even worse, a lack of respect for one's history. Ruined respect devolves into anger, which sinks to causeless hatred.
Perhaps this is where the Jewish mourning day of Tisha b'Av, the Zimmerman verdict and my travel observations intersect. The greatest lesson from all three is the need for respect for others. By extension, this means a respect for their property. We must actively teach and enforce honoring others (sometimes even at personal expense) if we're ever to end racism, discourage graffiti and salve the "causeless hatred" that in the year 70 of the Common Era brought the exile of the Jewish people from Jerusalem.
Creating a context of respect should be the foremost project in education; it is the seed from which accomplishment grows. Treating teachers, parents and all elders with respect (using titles, emphasizing manners, inculcating proper boundaries) gives children the notion that in time, with the right behavior, they too can earn such deference.
I dearly hope the narcissistic influence of YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, and the "me-centric" nature of i-tech hasn't excised the character trait of humility. Instant, self-gratifying bragging reinforces the belief that "my need for expression trumps your ownership of that wall," and allows vandalism to flourish.
Tweets and Facebook posts tag time and virtual space; graffiti is simply its continuation on property if its perpetrators never learned to respect others or what they own.
When alleys etched with ever-taller graffiti form the urban environment, and authority figures receive shrugs because they're seen as lackeys of a worthless system, those become the only values a child can envision for his own adulthood. No wonder he's desperate to make a physical mark on the world, lest he remain another disposable soul.
But when children respect their elders and authorities, kids understand their own not-yet-elevated stations in life, and pursue earning respect for themselves.  I remember the rules when I was a kid: Stand for adults; address them by their titles, honor teachers and parents and don't infringe on anything that's not yours.
What happened to that norm of politeness? Call it "causeless respect." Perhaps with a determined dose of it, cities could be cleaner, racial groups could better communicate, and maybe even God could find a more welcoming earth.

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