In response to the tragic death of 14-year old Dajae Coleman, Evanston Mayor Liz Tisdahl convened a “stop the violence” community meeting on October 2, which happened to be Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday.
By the time of the meeting, everyone in the close knit Chicago suburb knew Dajae’s story. His assailant, Wesley Woodson III, mistaking the 14-year old as a rival gang member, fatally shot him as he was walking home from a party.
Unfortunately, this kind of senseless violence is not limited to gangs. It extends to friends and family. A 14-year old Chicago girl shot a close friend to death after they argued over a boy on Facebook. Another 14-year girl old fatally stabbed her younger sister because the younger girl failed to show appreciation to her older sister, who prepared dinner six nights in a row.
On the occasion of Gandhi’s birthday, I wonder why these kids are provoked by such inconsequential circumstances to violence. Why do they respond to perceived acts of disrespect with such lethal force?
Of course it’s complicated – socio-economic, family and mental health issues all come into play – but I wonder what can we learn from Gandhi, who led the nonviolent freedom movement in India, about curbing youth violence in American cities?
Gandhi built his movement on the ancient Hindu notion of ahimsa, which translates into English as “nonviolence,” but more than the absence of violence, it is respect for the feelings and sensitivities of ALL living things.
Even Hinduism preaches standing your ground against attackers, but it says our primary obligation is to understand our place in the natural world, especially in relation to others. According to Hinduism, a man and a gnat share equal rank. So when a man harms another man or a gnat, he upsets the natural order and causes harm to himself and others.
Following Gandhi’s lead, let’s teach our children that respect is a two-way street, not a one-way alley, which starts with self-love. Kids who don’t love themselves have a hard time believing they’re worthy of respect and love from others. In an effort to protect themselves against feelings of shame and inadequacy, they tend to push others away before others can reject them. When they feel slighted or disrespected, they can push with extreme, sometimes deadly force.
In keeping with the principle of ahimsa, let’s teach our kids that their lives are sacred and that they are worthy of the love and respect entitled to all living things. Only when they accept themselves with love, will they stop striking out and hurting themselves and others.