Columbia, SC — It’s 1970, and Dad is attempting to teach little Patty Gaddis how to drive. As we approach an intersection where I have the right-of-way, Dad says that even though I don’t have to stop, I still have to slow down and approach the intersection with caution. My ridiculously adolescent response was, “I’m in the right, and if someone hit me, it would be his fault, wouldn’t it?” Dad says, “So, if he kills you, you can be happy that it was his fault.”
Wait a minute. You mean I have a responsibility for my choices and actions, even if I think the other person is wrong? You mean just because I have the freedom and the right to do or say something doesn’t always mean I should?
Fast forward to today. Regardless of whether George Zimmerman is an overzealous racial profiler or no, and regardless of whether Trayvon Martin was an honor student or a young man with evidence of bad behavior, this horror could have been prevented.
What if George Zimmerman had not followed Trayvon Martin, and had simply reported what he deemed to be suspicious behavior? What if Trayvon Martin had not doubled back to confront Zimmerman, but gotten himself to safety — and perhaps even reported that some guy was following him? Sadly, both Zimmerman and Martin ultimately chose to act in a manner that escalated the conflict to horrendous, out-of–control proportions, resulting in the senseless death of one and leaving the other a target for rage — deserved or not.
My top-of-the-head response to President Obama’s call to consider how we can prevent future tragedies such as this would be for each of us to think first, to be personally responsible, to treat others respectfully, whether they reciprocate or no, to express anger appropriately, to have meaningful discussions in our homes, churches and other appropriate venues about that which unites us and that which divides us. To ask questions and question answers. To learn how to de-escalate a conflict. It’s a life skill more valuable today than ever before.
As human beings, we have the unique capacity to think and reason. If we don’t use it, we most assuredly will eventually lose it. Then, God help us all.