What’s Missing Today

I’ve been fortunate enough to call Peace Studies scholar and teacher Colman McCarthy a friend for a number of years now. Last month, he wrote a commentary on singer, songwriter and activist Joan Baez. In the piece, Baez reflects on the fact that today, we are missing the “glue” that connects us to others with struggles similar to our own.

With his permission, I include part of that commentary from The Washington Post (July 21, 2019).

“In 1984, I invited Baez to speak to my afternoon class at the School Without Walls, then and now a haven of quality education. She couldn’t make the 1 p.m. slot but no matter: Instead, she sent the class 30 tickets to the Lisner Auditorium concert and passes to meet for an after-show discussion-based seminar on Gandhian nonviolence. I prepped the students by having them research Baez’s life and the needle that threaded together her work as a risk-taking antiwar activist and human rights advocate.

“In her reflective essay ‘A Question of Adhesion,’ Baez wrote: ‘Looking back on it, I think I got more out of that meeting than I did out of anything else I did during the [whole two-month] tour.’

“She needed little time to realize that the Walls students were ‘economically and politically mixed, fairly knowledgeable and very bright. . . . But of all we talked about that evening, the one thought that struck me the most, and which moved me to realize that it was time to reorganize my life once again, was a very simple one. It came from a sixteen-year-old boy whose “punk” styles included blond spikes in his hair, black jeans and a leather jacket.

“ ‘He sat casually near me on a couch, his motorcycle helmet in his lap. He called himself Dante, and he was clearly well-liked by the rest of the class. He had mused, participated, joked and now seemed to sum things up. “You see, you guys in the sixties had everything. You had the music, the issues, the symbols, the momentum. You had each other; you had glue. We are missing that. We don’t have any glue.” ’ ….

“… Baez wrote in the Adhesion piece: ‘There was unanimous agreement in the room and I saw instantly that [Dante’s] statement rang true not only for young people, but certainly for me, and, as I have found since that evening, for practically everyone I meet. We are all so caught up in our individual problems and struggles that we have no attachment to others whose problems and struggles are so very much like our own. We need some common bonding ingredient — some social and political “glue”. . . .

“ ‘Following that conversation, at the remaining concerts on the tour, I began testing this notion. ‘I know there are intelligent people all over the world,’ I would say. ‘It’s just that we have to discover each other.’ Audiences seemed to respond with enthusiasm and relief.’ ”

Reading Baez’s words stirred my own thoughts.

What’s missing in many of us today is the unconditional caring that’s demonstrated during fires, floods, hurricanes, and other horrific events.

What’s missing is accountability instead excuses and finger-pointing.

What’s missing is loyalty to principle more than to individuals or institutions.

What’s missing today is the character and courage to stand up, and speak out against injustice, incivility and intolerance.

What’s missing is simple respect for others regardless of race, color or creed.

What’s missing today is the common bond that defines us as Americans.

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