In 2001 my wife and I helped a young Russian woman come to the U.S. Driving into our community for the first time, she was shocked to see no bars on the house windows, no protective fences around homes, and no armed guards at the doorways of every place of business. It’s not like Russia, or the Dominican Republic, or Guatemala, Paraguay, Mexico, or so many other nations. We told her, “We don’t have to bar our windows or post armed guards. We are Americans. We’re not the kind of people that we need to protect ourselves against each other.”

Maybe I need to eat those words. It seems almost every week there is some kind of public shooting. The past few years have shown us a Christmas party slaughter, school shootings and stabbings, and vehicles intentionally mowing innocent people down. We have seen examples of hate speech, riots, shout-downs to prevent free speech, racism, sexism, and blatant intolerance of all sorts. Instead of coexistence, seeking peace in justice, and practicing civility, respect and tolerance in a pluralistic society, we have become a people segregated by rabid anger, political divide, religious suspicion, and rampant incivility.

Only we can decide what kind of people we are going to be. Possibly you believe your anger is justified; possibly you consider that you can’t control what you feel; possibly your disagreements and disgust are bubbling up in you. There’s nothing new about that. What’s new is a failure to control it or to channel it in appropriate ways. Temperance is a choice. Hate is a choice. Violence is a choice. Control despite disagreement is an option.

Are we going to choose to be a society that lashes out at people we disagree with? Are we going to choose to be bigots, or racists, or anarchists? Are we going encourage hatred and violence, or tolerance and peace?

I like the words of the Bible: “As much as it depends on you, live in peace with all men,” and “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” Only we can decide what kind of people we’re going to be.

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