In preparation for asking the 9th grade students who have participated in our Confirmation program this year to write a Statement of Faith, I listened, again, to Eboo Patel read his essay for the This I Believe series. In it, he relates a story from when he was a teenager growing up in suburban Chicago. Dr. Patel is a Muslim. His lunch room friends included a Jew, a Mormon, a Hindu, a Catholic and a Lutheran. He tells of the time when a group of students in their school began writing and shouting anti-Semitic slurs in their school and how he remained silent in the face of what he knew was wrong. Years later, he says, his friend told him that, on those days, he was afraid to attend school and felt abandoned by his friends who remained silent.
It made me think, again, of all the ways good people, myself included, are, too often, silent. We are silent not only in the face of racial or sexist taunts and slurs and jokes whether in school or in the work place or on the sports fields. We are also silent about our neighbors who are hungry or our children who are being neglected. We are silent when religious voices are bigoted and hateful. We are silent when some students are ignored or teased or taunted at school. We are silent when individuals are lumped together in a group and painted with a demeaning stereotype. We are silent, not because we don’t care, but often because we are busy and don’t want to get involved or we downplay the power that such voices have. But, such voices, if left unchallenged, are hurtful and harmful and deeply destructive.
Those of us who believe that each person deserves to be treated with respect need to find our voice. As Dr. Patel says in his essay, “We need to do more than stand next to each other in silence.”