Last week I went to a good-bye party for a work colleague and just as I was about to put the delectable bite of cheesecake into my mouth another colleague sat down and asked, “Do you think there’s more or less violence today than ever before?” I ate the bite of cheesecake as I took in his comment.
What with all the violence we experienced in the world in the last two weeks alone, he and another colleague had been talking about this on their way to the vigil we held for two of our Oxford College students killed in a violent attack in Dhaka, Bangladesh a couple of weeks ago. They went back and forth discussing some of the usual arguments.
I guess there’s been violence in the world for as long as we’ve had a world. Is it worse now than it was at the beginning of time or in the Middle Ages during the Crusades or the American Civil War or in 20th century when six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust? Well, I’m just not sure.
Another colleague was sitting there listening to us when she chimed in with a few thoughts. She told us about a friend of hers who’s expecting a baby. The friend shared how she and her partner had been wondering if they did the right thing by bringing a child into this world.
I had some thoughts like that too when we were expecting our son in 2012. Of course, now, I have no idea what I would do without him. But I get it. I even suspect my now-deceased paternal grandmother had those thoughts in 1942 with a World War and the Holocaust swirling against the backdrop of her expecting a son. I would almost bet she wondered if it was the right thing to do.
Another colleague, a graduate school intern was sitting there too. She was by far the youngest at the table, but she stayed quiet. I wondered what she was thinking about our conversation and really wanted her to speak up. But, I let the moment pass by without encouraging her, and I haven’t followed up. I wonder what she thinks about this particular moment especially since she’s lived most of her life in a post-9/11 world.
I don’t really know if there’s more or less violence now. But maybe that’s not the most relevant question or point. Maybe we need to talk about the capacity for good instead.
Abinta Kabir and Faraaz Hossain, the two Oxford College students recently killed are examples of the capacity for doing what’s good in the world. Abinta would have been a sophomore this year at the college, and she was known for creating activities on our campus that were meant to include all people. She was one who brought people together to strengthen the community.
Faraaz Hossain was also active in this way on campus. But his capacity to do a good thing showed up in a tremendous way in the attack at the café in Dhaka. Instead of leaving his two friends behind, he stayed with them and in the end lost his life.
I suspect there are many reasons he stayed behind that night. What I do know is that he created a story counter to the story that the terrorists wanted us to know. He created a story about the capacity for doing what’s good. And that’s the story we need to hear more about in this world. We need people who do good things, and we need a media that covers that story and highlights that story more than the story about the attack.
We all have the capacity to do what’s good in the world, but we have to make the choice to do it. Twenty year old Faraaz Hossain has set the bar for me. His life is now an example of what it means to be a true friend, of what it means to do what’s good in the world.
Rev. Lyn Pace is the college chaplain at Oxford College of Emory University.