Ever since the riots of 1992, I have been amazed by the level of indifference present in today's society.
What I mean is that in 1992, right after the riots happened, I was stunned and amazed by how most people simply stared at the television with detached involvement; looking at all the devastation present before them, as if Beirut, Lebanon was burning. But this reality was 15 minutes from their home.
Or how many business leaders had driven, or been driven, literally for years by and through the inner-city communities that lined the Santa Monica Freeway leading into Downtown Los Angeles, California, but never "in" these same communities. In other words, never experiencing them, and the people that lived within them, for themselves. Their only context was the evening news, and of course, that was not at all good news (with respect to the inner city community).
This is why I launched Operation HOPE with a Bankers Bus Tour through the devastation called South Los Angeles, California, on May 5th, 1992, just days following the initial civil unrest, and while many parts of our city was still burning.
I can still recall the words of a former editor of the Editorial Pages for the Los Angeles Times, Judy Duggin, saying to me, "how abnormal it is, to go through so much trouble, to show someone something, that is so totally normal..." Yes Judy," I replied, "but the reality is (as a banker) you don't lend where you have never been." This is the reality -- their reality -- and we had to speak to it, if we were ever to have something called real progress in our community.
Well, one Bankers Bus Tour of 18 leaders from the private sector, government and the community in 1992, led in turn to others over the years involving a caravan of chartered buses and literally hundreds of high level participants since.
Today, for many bankers and business leaders in mainstream America, driving, meeting, lending, even socializing in Southern California's under-served communities, is no longer a foreign or scary experience. Better still, many do it today without actually consciously thinking about it; considering it simply a natural extension of their sense of community. They are now involved, engaged, and connected. Indifferent, no more.
Well, today I think I would have been safer in South Los Angeles, than the business-class airplane compartment I traveled in on my way to Dallas, Texas, by way of Denver, Colorado.
Now, given the mild concussion on my head and the relatively tender state of my recovering body following the taxi incident in New York City, upon arrival in Denver I thought it wise to simply lay low and allow other passengers around me to depart first. And so, there I sat, patiently, as others got up around me; and things starting falling out of the sky!!
Well, not exactly....
You see, the gentleman across from me opened the bin above my head, and wouldn't you know it, a package of pillows and blankets fell right on my head. Perfect.
As I covered my head and said ouch, the man hovering over me looked down and had only this to say, "...what happened to your head?" Huh? What? How about, "hey, sorry my friend," or anything close to a statement of concern? And so, I answered his question, as I comforted my tender head, "a mild concussion..," I said. And with that he looked at me one more time, and simply walked away.
He walked away, just as the evidently impatient lady sitting next to me (who I might add had just checked her voice messages from her cell phone on the runway, and hit the speaker phone button just as the automated voice uttered "you have 300 messages." Yes, that is right, 300 messages) decided that I was not moving fast enough, ...of course with my head injury, and falling items and all, and simply stepped around me so she could get out of the plane NOW. And no, she did not excuse herself. Amazing. Maybe she had to return some of those 300 messages before the next flight...
I have always said that in 21st century America, the issue will not be love or hate, as experienced by my hero the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which let's you know exactly how it feels about you, ...but indifference, as communicated by the unique individuals on the airplane this evening, which doesn't care enough too.
In some ways one could argue that Dr. King and the civil rights leaders of that era had it easier here, in an environment where everyone made their intentions clear to you.
In today's environment indifference is the death nail of the soul.
Indifference, this is the real enemy.
Just look around you, it is most everywhere. People that have made it clear to anyone willing to listen, "....it's about me, not we."
Even on the societal level, the message seems to also be clear. One only need look to the community of gated communities, for confirmation of the absolute failure of President Johnson's "War of Poverty." People have basically said, "...can't fix it, don't understand it, really, not my problem." "...Would love to help, as long as it (the proposed solution) doesn't inconvenience me, doesn't cost me any real money, and of course, is not in my back yard." Yes, indifference is the death nail of the soul.
Yes, the world is in quite a fix these days, as "caring for others" seems to have taken on a much more restrictive definition across many sectors of society. Where has our civility gone? Where has our inter-connectedness gone? Where has our love for each other, gone?
Well, at Operation HOPE we are committed to re-connecting this "wiring of the human spirit" that binds us all together. We passionately believe in the power of spirit, the power and rightness of community, if not unity, ...and the power of love. We passionately believe in these values, even if at times it seems that parents and society in general increasingly fail to teach and encourage them as a priority within human development. We also believe in the common sense intelligence behind our campaign for and around enlightened self-interest.
My friend Rod McGrew said something powerful when I recounted this sad airplane story to him. He told me that "this is why the silver rights movement is so necessary. Because in the economic era we now find ourselves in, where increasingly the priority is me, myself and I, individuals need what we teach simply as a survival skill."
In other words, as I have said in my most recent pamphlet Racism and the Silver Rights Movement, "I am not saying racism doesn't exist, I am saying (get yourself right and) it doesn't matter." That society may not change, ...so you must. Not exactly a ringing endorsement of our growth and positive evolution over the past 40 years since the civil rights movement.
I believe we can do better. I believe, at our core, we genuinely want to (do better).
When I give my speeches of late, I always end them just about the same way. I ask the audience rhetorically, "what are you passionate about, what is your purpose, and what are you here in this world to do?," as my friend Dr. Preston Martin loves to say.
In other words, you don't get credit from God for showing up to work on time. You don't get credit for raising your children, nor for being kind and pleasant to others, for putting food on the table, nor a roof over your families head. You are supposed to do these things. That "you only get credit from God, ...for helping other people. And I don't know about you, but I wanted a spiritual platinum card with no limits on i t!"
What are you here to do? What are we... here to do? This is a question each of us should ask ourselves, each and every day.
Hint on the answer friends: it should not be all about YOU!
When was the last time you sent someone a thank you card for the dinner they cooked you, or the nice thing they did for you, ...or a note, simply saying "I am thinking of you," or better still, "keep going, I am proud of you?" Just think how you would feel if you got such a note. Exactly...
Or maybe you can choose next time to extend a hand to help the young lady, or the older elderly couple, as they seek to put their carry on luggage away in the overhead bin, as they struggle on with a line of impatient people behind them (in a rush to go nowhere, I might add.), in the middle of the aisle on your next departing flight. Or maybe just acknowledge someone's existence, or their pain, when you encounter either.
Yes, love, care and compassion are powerful weapons against hopelessness, fear and hate. I love Bono's quote, "...I refuse to hate, because love can do a much better job." Yes, yes, yes --- it can.
This week let's all do at least one thing for someone else, not including family and loved ones, without expecting anything in return. You will be amazed at how good it will make you feel, for the gift truly is to the giver in life.
In closing, let me say this; I don't at all dislike the people from the airplane today, I feel sorry for them. And I also thank them, because they encouraged me to write this!
As I have always said, "if I don't like me, I cannot like you. If I don't respect me, I am not going to respect you. If I don't feel good about me, I am not going to feel good about you." And the most powerful truth of them all, in this context, ".if I don't have a purpose of my life, I am going to make your life a living hell."
What I experienced was not hate, it was too lazy and sloppy for that. It was simply a passive indifference, and with it, a wholesale surrendering of the values that make human beings truly unique, valuable, and different from every other animal species; a spirit capable of growth.
A spirit capable of not only choosing love, but becoming love.
God...is love, and we are His children. Wow. What better linage could we possibly ask for?
Ladies and gentlemen, we can do this.
Onward, with HOPE.