A Witness to Violence and a Message of Hope

This post focuses on the things we do to each other and how we confront them.

The world can be very strange. Often we just raise our hands up and say, “Why do we do what we do?”

In the Western world, we stretch ourselves to make money, succeed, and survive another day. Do we care about those around us? Do we recognize their existence? We are always so wrapped up in our own lives that we don’t see what’s happening. Life becomes routine. Then something raw and real happens that jolts us from our stupor. An incident occurs that shocks us into realizing that life can be gone in a moment, and all can change.

In most cases, we visualize pain from far away. We watch events as voyeurs of history. We see the masses of refugees leaving the Middle East and Africa spilling uncomfortably into Europe, running away from a daily dose of death and destruction. We see the U.S. tearing itself apart with racial tension, gun violence, and monthly mass shootings. We try to understand how the idea of building walls to keep the others out is viewed as a solution to safety. Instability, failed states, and a failed rule of law arise from a lack of planning, corruption, bad decisions, despots, criminals, and egos. But instability also comes from giving up, not standing up.

Many times in my life I have been a witness to violence. I have seen close-up violence; it was something I could not avoid in my profession. When you don’t have a choice to walk away or close your eyes, you are forced to take action. I have worked with security specialists who lived with violence every day, and then lived (if they lived) with the after-effects that plagued them for the rest of their lives.

The other day I was with my girlfriend when things went wrong. An angry man with a gun kidnapped someone a few feet away from us. I saw the gun, the car, the accomplice, the perpetrator, and the victim—and I understood what to do. No Rambo, no heroics. I reacted. I called 911, took a photo of the incident as it was playing out (protected by a barrier), noted the license plate number, organized a group of witnesses, and talked to a bystander who was involved. Within hours, the criminals were caught, the victim was okay, and the incident was in the hands of the police.

There were twelve witnesses—young couples, families and seniors, construction workers, passersby’s, and restaurant owners—who spoke up. Store owners with video cameras offered their recordings. They were angry—but in the right way. They were angry at the violence and had had enough. That day they faced their fear and their anonymity, and they took action. Each of them caught a glimpse of the flipside of their safe day-to-day life. But to make a difference, they had to be involved; they had to live life and leave the sidelines.

Everyday people with a little prompting stood up to the chaos and violence. They handled their fear and became proud members of a community, a community that cared.

That day I saw hope in action. I saw regular people morph into super heroes by doing the right thing and refusing to let their community fail. We need more of that in the world.

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