A Message of Hope for Better Things to Come in 2016

As we approach the coming holiday season it is appropriate to reflect seriously and with concern on the past year's many signs of growing discord across our nation and world.

From Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago to Kenya, Colorado, Paris and San Bernardino, the evidence all around us reveals persistent and growing divides that are antithetical to the collective interests of all people and our planet.

There can be no hope of shared prosperity, justice or collective progress, nor peace at home or abroad in circumstances like these.

In effect, our recent history underscores the point that too many people and institutions in today's world have simply lost perspective on what it means to be morally consistent and accountable.

At the heart of much of our nation's and world's growing turmoil is the increasing use of racial, religious and ideological rationales to advance violence and injustice against targeted groups considered to be "other."

A complementary aspect of the problem is the rise and media glorification of modern political "leaders" who shamelessly peddle intergroup hatred and violence as a means of advancing their divisive, partisan political aims.

In prior epochs of modern history, such inclinations have led to well-documented calamities ranging from global military conflict to genocide and massive social unrest. Inevitably, such experiences have made the world an even more angry, dangerous, and unequal place.

In modern day America, it should be troubling to many more of us than seems to be the case to hear leading presidential candidates callously depicting immigrants, select religious groups, and even their own domestic political opponents in ways that are manifestly vile, disingenuous and inaccurate, merely to garner votes.

Even worse is to see such political hacks being actively or tacitly supported by seemingly growing throngs of religious extremists and so-called "patriots" whose views of our nation's very purposes and laws are entirely uninformed and antithetical to both traditional religious teachings and the aims of our Founding Fathers.

In 1968, the day following the assassination of the great African American civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by a white supremacist, then U.S. senator Robert F. Kennedy, a promising presidential candidate who only weeks later would himself be killed by a terrorist, made a speech at the Cleveland Club in Ohio.

His remarks, delivered now nearly fifty years ago, are as pertinent today as they were then concerning the folly of policy by hatred and fear.

I close here with Kennedy's clairvoyant words from that fateful speech in Cleveland, which seem especially worthy of our most careful consideration during the coming holiday season and new year:

...When you teach a man to hate and fear his brother, when you teach that he is a lesser man because of his color or his beliefs or the policies he pursues, when you teach that those who differ from you threaten your freedom or your job or your family, then you also learn to confront others not as fellow citizens but as enemies, to be met not with cooperation but with conquest...

We learn, at the last, to look at our brothers as aliens, men with whom we share a city, but not a community; men bound to us in common dwelling, but not in common effort. We learn to share only a common fear, only a common desire to retreat from each other, only a common impulse to meet disagreement with force...

We must admit the vanity of our false distinctions among men and learn to find our own advancement in the search for the advancement of others. We must admit in ourselves that our own children's future cannot be built on the misfortunes of others. We must recognize that this short life can neither be ennobled or enriched by hatred or revenge.

As we celebrate new beginnings with the start of a new year, let us commit ourselves to the individual acts of connection and understanding that bind our communities together. Let us build upon those individual acts to revive our common commitment to creating the world we all so desire: a world in which harmony and prosperity are within reach and our children are raised on hope and hard work, not fear.

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Henry A. J. Ramos is CEO of the Insight Center for Community Economic Development.