The following was written yesterday by Dan Rather, hours before the tragic events in Dallas. His words seem fitting and perhaps even more powerful in the aftermath of those events:
In light of recent and certainly controversial police-involved shootings and other recent news events I feel the need to address something…
I remember hearing from a scientist once that the universe tends towards chaos. It’s a sobering reality that underpins the laws which we now know govern our planet and the vastness of space. But it is also intuitively a concept that is readily apparent to any of us who has tidied up a child’s scattered toys or struggled to untangle a ball of string. It takes work to clean things up. And these days, it certainly seems that the world is a mess, that chaos is reigning, in our country, and beyond our shores.
It is sometimes hard to stare at snapshots of time and clearly see the trend lines, but the deaths of more African Americans at the hands of white police officers, the unapologetic use of anti-Semitic imagery culled from extremist groups by a presidential candidate (the latest in a series of bigoted rhetoric), gun violence in our streets, the multiple terror attacks against civilians, even the dissolution of the European order, all point to a level of disorder that poisons the stability of society. We must recognize that this is the powerful drift of the status quo that threatens to get worse if left unchecked.
It is perhaps ironic to feel this way so recently after celebrating our nation’s independence. To be sure, that event marked a certain chaos for the British Empire, but our founding principal was one of bringing order to disparate parts. Our original national motto E Pluribus Unum (from many one) spoke to an ideal of stability that we now understand goes against, in some real sense, the laws of nature. The Founding Fathers tried to paper over some of the forces that were pulling their great experiment apart, most notably the blood-stained legacy of slavery and race. It nearly proved fatal to our national story through civil war and it is an issue on which we have never fully atoned. As the headlines continue to show us almost daily, it is a debt that still haunts us.
However, it would too pessimistic and fatalistic to think that we are powerless in the face of chaos. Maybe we cannot change the equation at the level of the universe, but we can in our own lives and to the betterment of our community. The heroes we laud today in our history books are mostly men and women who stood up and said, the work may be hard, the personal rewards uncertain, but we refuse to accept that the world cannot be made a better place through our toil. Martin Luther King, Jr. had his own equation for seeing our journey through time and space – ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’
I choose today to embrace Dr. King’s hopeful vision and ask you to do the same. Stating this publicly is only a start. What we need is engagement, work, to turn back the tides of chaos. It can be as simple an act as voting, or a more sustained effort, like joining and supporting groups that are doing the real lifting, in the trenches, to build a more peaceful and equitable world. What is not acceptable is to ignore the realities and challenges we face.
Perhaps it is best to end with a quote from the Nobel Peace Prize speech of the late Elie Wiesel. Like his laureate predecessor Dr. King, Wiesel found it fitting to draw his own map of the moral universe and each of our individual responsibility to confront chaos.
“We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”