“The greatest tragedy in America is not the great waste of natural resources – though this is tragic; the biggest tragedy is the waste of human resources because the average person goes to his grave with his music still in him.” (Oliver Wendell Holmes)
Reading this quote one might believe that it was written by a person living in the late twentieth century. The sense of conservation, and the notion that there are people’s lives going unfulfilled seem very contemporary to our times. But, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. died in 1932. The problems of natural and human resource waste go back a century, and likely even farther.
Recently, where I live, there has been a story in the news about people who have found themselves in desperate situations. A man hits a boy who has stepped in front of his truck while driving on a city street, and then is beaten nearly to death when he stops to render aid to the boy by a group of street thugs.
This story and thousands others like it speak to the waste of human resources. People who beat someone senseless because of a traffic accident are wasting their lives. The youths who beat the driver in the accident will face years, or even life in prison for those acts.
Yesterday’s quote was about the power of appreciation and encouragement. As I sit here writing today I cannot help but wonder what role despair and discouragement played in the decisions of these people to act as they did. Is it possible that they saw their lives as so worthless, so downtrodden by disappointment, disrespect and despair that even the concern for the lives of those around them vanished? I am in no way suggesting that their heinous acts were justified. These people committed a despicable crime and deserve every ounce of justice that is brought their way.
In the wake of this tragedy there has been a steady stream of people calling for more love and understanding in the world. My first reaction to this was disdain. My knee jerk thought was that these pastors and community leaders were trying to build up a sense of pity for the perpetrators, to somehow get people to see them as victims of society. As I sit here today I think somewhat differently. Today I see the words flowing in press conferences and Sunday pulpits as a call out to those not involved in the acts of last week. I see them as a call to the rest of us to reach out and do something to prevent these acts in the future.
When something like this happens there is an immediate reaction around the idea of law enforcement. Better cameras to detect crimes, faster response times by the police, even armed citizens are discussed as ways to prevent or address these tragedies. But I think the real solution boils down to a single, four-letter word….love.
By all accounts, the man who was beaten was a good father and hard worker. He left his vehicle to give aid to someone in a neighborhood that is notorious for its danger. One witness, a retired nurse who gave aid to both the boy and the man who was beaten, went so far as to say that when she left her home for the accident scene, she brought along a gun because no one walks those streets unprotected. Surely this man knew the reputation of the neighborhood, but the sense of care for another person in need took over and, as it ended up, he put his life on the line to do the right thing.
People who feel loved, and who feel love for others do not beat someone who has been involved in an accident. I do not live the lives of these people, and I cannot say what their outlook may have been, or what was in their minds and hearts as they stomped this poor man. My life could not be more different from theirs. What I do know is that in that act, in that moment, they didn’t show love for others, at best they displayed a sense of retribution, at worst it was nothing more than mob mentality and hate.
Today’s quote is about waste of human resources. It is fashionable to think green and concern ourselves with recycling, reducing waste, reducing carbon emissions and the like. Billions of dollars are spent on cleaning up the planet and preventing further damage. To be sure these are all worthy endeavors. Just as worthy would be billions spent to bring back a sense of love in this country. If our political and community leaders spent as much time, money and resources on helping people establish a sense of pride and love, of offering hope and encouragement rather than paying for the results of disappointment and despair, the tsunami of waste of human resources might finally be pushed back.