Ebola Reveals Heroes

Professional sports figures generally serve as heroes for only a short time depending on their ability to sustain an extraordinary high level of play and good health. We raise these athletes to hero status because they have done something we and most others cannot. They add value to our sports entertainment lives.
Who are our heroes outside of sports? How many people have achieved hero status in our political, economic, corporate, or government arenas in recent years? Whom do we want our children to look to as role models?
How about the medical staffs treating Ebola patients since last March in the West African countries of Nigeria, Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone?
Over 200 health care professionals have died after contracting Ebola during this recent outbreak. According to the BBC, there are approximately 18,000 reported cases to date and of these 6856 people have died. With no available vaccine, containment of those suffering from or exposed to this disease was the most difficult but necessary and effective treatment.
We have learned of the family, tribal, and cultural customs that often put healthy people into contact with this disease. The middle of an epidemic was not an effective time to initiate a national education program on Ebola. It was running rampant among a population not confident in a government asking them to immediately disregard family and cultural practices for treatment of the sick and burial of the dead.
While others talked and debated, the world medical community responded. Many came from all over the world to West Africa to work with and support an overwhelmed and often ill equipped local medical community. Like you, I really can’t name any of these people. They all look the same wearing their containment suits and goggles.
Not a whole lot of news people wanted to get too close to the red zone so we did not see these medical professionals up close and personal. But they came to West Africa, and they worked under the same conditions and with the same problems as their local counterparts. They put themselves in greater danger working under conditions not up to available medical standards. These people are heroes!
All of this struck home to me one day when the BBC reported an interview with a Liberian nurse. She described how she got up and went to work every day praying to God that she would not bring Ebola home to her own husband and children. She accepted that she must put her own health at risk, that it was her chosen professional duty to be among these sick and dying patients, and that she would continue to honor this duty. She did not pray to God for herself, but for her family. To me this nurse is a hero. She demonstrated great courage in the face death but continued to serve others.
There were nurses from Nigeria who, after Ebola had been contained there, volunteered to serve with the medical staffs in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. They knew all of the problems firsthand, but they chose to serve again. They chose to serve others whose tribal heritage might be different.
Ebola has fallen from the 24 hour news cycle. New cases are dropping, containment has been effective, and there is talk about a possible vaccine by the end of the year. The present threat is diminished. Will the government and political communities start listening to the world health community about the next disease? One doctor when asked how fast Ebola could spread out of West Africa simply stated “as fast as an airplane can fly.” Such is the case with many diseases today. While scary, it needs to be remembered.
But for now, let us offer a prayer of thanks to these Ebola heroes we will never personally know.

Of Two Minds

Today is another glorious day of sunny, post summer – pre fall weather to be fully enjoyed knowing what lies ahead. I wanted to think only positive thoughts as I prepared to write my blog. I sought a mental state to match the magic of the day.
My mind was not prepared to cooperate. News reports on the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the president’s recent speech on that topic, kept invading my mind. Questions pounded my thoughts about what we could or should believe based on public reporting of events. Does US intelligence really know if there are 10,000 or 30,000 ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq? Why the huge difference between these two figures both reported within the last few weeks? Are one half of those number foreign recruits? Why did we summarily force leaders of Saddam Hussein’s army into oblivion, with no way to support their families, only to have them turn up years later as fighters under the ISIS flag? We shared intelligence with Iran to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan until 2002. Iran was a state sponsor of terrorism then and we worked with them. We reject them today saying they are state sponsors of terrorism? A government spokesperson last week stated there is no military or intelligence cooperation between the US and Iran regarding ISIS, but that the US is “open to engaging the Iranians.” Are we still about word games rather than substance?
I fought to change the direction my mind was wondering. My spirit rebounded from this dark world as I thought of the life in our North End Community of Boston and the season of religious feasts this year which were outstanding. Week after week the ceremonies, the parades, the participation of the residents eagerly awaiting the saint on their street, and the unrestrained joy of the children all demonstrated the vibrant life in our community. We enjoyed photo, video, and print coverage of all the events thanks to www.northendwatrefront.com and other community media.
What about the future of the feasts some ask? Where is our neighborhood going? I say look at all the young men and women who participated this year with the veterans of many feasts carrying the saint, marching the neighborhood, holding the ribbons, sitting the vigils, and performing all the required duties both in public and behind the scenes. Adding their youth and vigor to that of the feast elders insures the future of the feasts. We need to thank everyone responsible for the feasts which annually remind us of our history as a community, our religious life, our ability to enjoy a life not subject to attack by murderous bullies. Promoting a positive community life for all, offering encouragement or help to those in need, these are pillars that support our village.

From al-Qaeda Offshoot to Caliphate

The Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (IS) advertises its murderous, brutal, and inhuman behavior to the world through its internet postings and social media. They offer video tapes of their outrageous conduct including two beheadings of captured news reporters. IS does what every terrorist aspires to achieve; instill fear in anyone who would oppose them. At present, IS Sunni Islam is seeking to disenfranchise Shia Islam which in recent times has been favored by the governments in Syria and Iraq.

What is happening now?

The Islamic State in Syria (ISIS) was only one of several al-Qaeda offshoots in 2011 fighting to topple the brutal Shia Islamic regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. They are financially backed, according to some, by followers of Wahhabism, an ultra conservative sect of Sunni Islam favored by some in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Some terror experts view Sunni Wahhabism as the primary source of worldwide Islamic terrorism. Shia versus Sunni, the ancient internal Muslim religious conflict that started shortly after the death of Mohammed, continues to the present. It is now being reignited by IS.

Assad’s regime is primarily supported by another Shia country, Iran. IS today is the most successful of all the Syrian-Iraqi jihadist groups, in military and financial terms, and in their sophisticated, well designed, and well executed use of the internet to sell their jihad to disaffected Sunni Muslims worldwide. They have gone from calling themselves the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS), to The Islamic State in Syria and the Levant (ISIL), to the Islamic State (IS), and as of July 4, 2014, to a Caliphate declared by their leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the self designated Caliph Ibrahim.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi asserts he is a direct descendant of Mohammed. As Caliph, he is the head of the Islamic world political state (which apparently has no geographical boundaries). In declaring the Caliphate, al-Baghdadi also lays claim to being God’s representative on earth, the self-declared worldwide religious leader of all Muslims (presumably Sunni at the expense of the Shia).
What is the immediate concern?

IS displays extreme brutality towards the non Sunni populace in captured areas. Murder, rape, intimidation, and torture seem to be routinely in use as IS addresses Shia Muslims and other religious and ethnic minorities that come under their control. Every day seems to offer yet another news report of IS increasing brutality. To IS you are either a Sunni Muslim willing to embrace their most conservative brand of Islam or you are an enemy to be killed or enslaved.

At first, IS seems to bring some order out of chaos in captured territory. They make water available, restore electricity, control fuel and food distribution, and replace the local police with their own form of enforcement. However, all soon changes.

IS bans alcohol, smoking, music, and insists women remain in their homes and not leave unless under a full burqa. Executions on the street seem frequent, random, and directed at non Sunni targets. Murder, rape, and denial of daily basic human needs are all used as a tool to instill fear and prevent opposition. If news reports are accurate, they accomplish this using brutal foreign fighters installed as local police. These enforcers reportedly feel free to take captured Shia women as slaves.

The US and other western countries were initially slow to comprehend the totality of the al-Qaeda threat. They do not appear poised to make that same mistake again with IS or the newly announced Caliphate.

Some who claim to be able to quantify the size of the threat today say IS has about six thousand fighters in total with thirty-five hundred to five thousand of that number in Syria. Of this number, about one thousand are believed to have been recruited from Chechnya. The “Chechen problem” will no doubt re-visit Russia.

It is further reported that five hundred IS fighters have been recruited from Great Britain, European countries, Canada, the US, Africa, and the Middle East. It was a hooded IS fighter with a British accent who beheaded at least one reporter on camera and gave IS the sought after international appeal.

Western governments realize IS soldiers have sufficient training, experience, cruelty, and blinded fanaticism to serve as future terrorists in their countries of origin or any country that has issued them a valid passport. When IS jihadists return to their country using their presently valid passports, they will seek install the Caliphate in all its civil and religious forms. At home, these terrorists will use their barbaric methods now on display in Syria and Iraq to instill fear and terror to force the acceptance of the newly declared Caliphate. This is their end game.

This is why governments are now in haste to identify their passport holders who may be fighting with IS. The US seems to be preparing more quietly then some countries but with no less vigor or diligence. The battle has already started. It is just out of the public view at present.

Much of what is legally needed may not presently be in place. Great Britain has signaled to their political bodies the need for new laws to address the return terrorist issue. They highlight the problem by raising the threat level, increasing public awareness, and engaging in the needed public debate. Others are following suit. A citizen with a valid passport, who can be shown to have fought with or supported IS, will certainly be challenged when seeking re-entry.

All countries will need the help of an alert and cooperative citizenry as this problem unfolds. They will also need the cooperation of Muslims in their communities, both Shia and Sunni, who together reject both the aberrant Islamic religious philosophy and abhorrent behavior practiced by IS.

Pope Francis and the Mafia

On June 21, 2014, while on a visit to Calabria, Italy, home of the Mafia ‘Ndrangheta, Pope Francis spoke to all Italians, and the world, clearly defining the status of Mafia groups with the Catholic Church. “Those who go down the evil path, as the Mafiosi do, are not in communion with God. They are excommunicated.”

Francis minced no words speaking directly to the ‘Ndrangheta on their own turf. When speaking of the “Mafiosi”, he was also including members of the Neapolitan Camorra and the Sicilian Mafia as others who could not be in communion with Christ and members of the Catholic Church. These are not just local Italian crime groups. They are worldwide criminal organizations with money and political influence. In one sentence, not uttered by any previous Pope to my knowledge, Francis drew a bright line that these Mafiosi will not accept.

In Calabria on July 2, 2014, the town of Oppido Mamertina held its annual religious procession led by the mayor, the local clergy and several Carabinieri police officers. In a direct challenge to the words of Pope Francis, the leaders deviated from the parade route to take the statue of the Madonna to the house of a convicted Mafioso serving his life prison sentence at home. Here the Madonna was lowered to pay respect, a salute, to this Mafioso. The mayor and the clergy continued on with the parade. The Carabinieri police officers were the only ones who refused to continue the parade after this outrageous act. They returned and filed a complaint which is now being investigated by anti-Mafia prosecutors. In response to this direct challenge, the local bishop has ordered no further church processions may take place in Calabria until further notice. Their religious parade season has been shut down for now.

The courage of this order was with the knowledge of a similar incident in southern Calabria at Easter, 2011 when a local bishop barred organized crime members from carrying the statue of the Madonna in a religious procession. Shortly thereafter a shot was fired through the front door of the residence for the town’s parish priest. Was it a warning? What will the Mafia groups do? How far will they go in their efforts to bully the Catholic Church and Francis to back off of his current religious dictate?

Over the years many, including myself, thought the Catholic Church routinely turned a blind eye toward Italian organized crime activities. Even worse they allowed Mafiosi to appear as respected members of local parishes. This in turn gave community members no place to turn for help. By not denouncing these Mafia criminal groups – which all require prospective members to participate in a murder before membership is bestowed – there existed no bar to recruiting new members. Young men could become a “man of honor,” as they describe themselves, and enjoy a relationship with their church where no priest or bishop would tell them differently.

Catholic religious rituals hold an important place in the mobster mentality. The Mafia’s Oath of Omerta was sworn to by new entrants – in one induction ceremony where I have personal knowledge – with a holy card bearing the images of Saints Peter and Paul ablaze in their cupped hands, while they mouthed their words of criminal allegiance. It has been a desecration of religion for centuries. No one challenges their evil so, in their minds, no evil exists? They delude themselves into believing what they pretend to be with no reference to reality. However, Pope Francis has told the world and all Mafiosi that by their own choice of action they cannot and will not be members of the Catholic Church. Hereafter, no matter what they do or say, they are banished, formally separated from the life of the church.

In 1989, I wrote to an American Catholic Cardinal who knew I was actively serving as an FBI agent investigating the American La Cosa Nostra and the Sicilian Mafia. I noted that in many Italian communities the Mafiosi seemed to have a place of honor with the clergy and in religious processions. I thought this served as a public sign of de facto clergy approval and was a clear statement the church would not challenge the mob’s power nor lose its support. Who would go to the parish priest for help when it concerned the Mafia?

I learned later from one of the Cardinal’s administrative priests that it took the Cardinal’s advisors two days to decide how to respond to my comment about the church and the Mafia. I was advised by return letter that if I thought some law was being broken, I should contact the Papal Nuncio (the Pope’s personal representative in the US) in Washington, D.C. The Cardinal reminded me of Pontius Pilate. I considered his response totally lacking in substance and disingenuous.

A few years later, I was temporarily but falsely heartened when the then current Pope said in a speech in Sicily that the Mafia was “intrinsically evil.” I wasn’t sure what that meant or what impact he intended his words to have. What was he telling his priests to do? He went back to Rome. I never heard any further public comment, much less action, offered by him on this subject. The historic relationship between the Mafia and the Catholic Church continued on.

In the 1990s the Sicilian Mafia grotesquely targeted for death Italian law enforcement officers, judges, politicians, journalists, and put the stability of the Italian government up for grabs. Many Italians have made great sacrifice and evidenced great courage in their ongoing and successful effort to rid Italy of this Mafia plague.
I pray Pope Francis continues on this path. It is not a problem he can solve with one pronouncement. He cannot flip a switch and change the status quo overnight. To be effective he will need to challenge his priests and bishops to put his words into practice. It is they who need to provide better example and leadership to their congregations.

I admire and respect Francis greatly. He speaks clearly and with courage. He addresses issues that have been too long ignored. The Mafiosi will fight to retain church recognition that they think they are owed. Francis knows this. He must expect Mafia counterattacks designed to force him to reverse or neutralize his declared position on their excommunication. I hope all of Italian law enforcement, the Swiss Guards, and his own priests will support and protect him. He cannot do this alone.

Law of the Garbage Truck

My friend Malcolm trolls the internet and often sends me interesting items I would never otherwise see. Recently one landed in my inbox entitled “The Law of the Garbage Truck.” I don’t know the origin of this story nor can I credit its author, but I will paraphrase it to pass it on.

The man successfully flags down a cab, jumps in and gives his airport destination. He flops back in the seat for a quick moment’s rest and to get his ticket and ID in order for airport security. He is running late. Suddenly he lurches forward as the cab driver slams on the breaks skillfully stopping just inches from a white compact that pulls out from a street parking space. The offending middle aged male driver now sticks his head out the window, screams and curses the cab driver, while violently waving his arms in the cab’s direction. The cab driver just smiles in return and gently motions the offending driver to continue on his way. The driver does but he is still yelling and looking back at the cab as he speeds off. The passenger is perplexed. “Why were you so kind to that idiot?” he asks.

“Many people are like garbage trucks,” the cab driver explained. “They run around full of garbage, full of anger, frustration, disappointments and even fears. They need a place to dump it and sometimes that place is on you. It is not personal. Just don’t take it that way. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on.”

“The secret is not to let them dump the garbage on you to take home to your family, friends, or even spread it among co-workers. Let it end with you! Don’t let the law of the garbage truck survive beyond you!”

When I finished the story I said to myself “I know that.” But I soon had to admit I did a poor job of executing patience and kindness with garbage truck drivers. My first impulse is to seek immediate justice as if the other person cared what I thought. I thank the unknown author for this simple but effective story. It could help reduce road rage.

A Ukrainian Request

“Please pray for my country.”

It was these words spoken by a young Ukrainian waiter working an elegant, upscale restaurant in Marco Island, Florida, that gave weight and made memorable to us his earlier comments about the current political strife in his native Ukraine.

Late dining is not exactly a rage for the geriatric set on Marco Island so my wife and I had the restaurant to ourselves. I will call our waiter Gregory rather than use his real name. He is in his early 20s, tall, boyish looking, with shorter brown hair. He is eager, polite, and attentive in his wait duties. However, I seemed to note a sense of sadness in his movements. From his accent, I thought he might be Polish. I asked.

“I am from the Ukraine. My family lives in Ukraine about one hundred miles north of the new Crimea-Ukraine border. I am Russian ethnically and culturally, however, the Russian and Ukraine languages are very close and I have grown up believing my Ukraine friends are like brothers and sisters. There has never been any kind of animosity between us, until now,” he added lowering his voice letting his head drift downward.

Gregory speaks by phone nightly with his parents as he is worries for them. He is grateful he at least can send money back to help them. Not all are that fortunate. Gregory believes that the beginning of Russia is Kiev and that historically the Ukraine economy, industry, and culture have always been aligned with Russia. The Ukraine rail system is built to Russian standards, not European. The Ukraine decision to align itself to the European Union seems to Gregory to have been a unilateral decision made quickly by a few with great political power and who are attracted to the riches and somewhat unclear promise of the EU.

“The Ukraine woke up one day to be told our economic future was with the EU. There was no political debate for the public. No referendum. No detailed plans for the future were provided for internal discussion or debate. This lack of process created a backlash of both pro and anti EU sentiment with a growing lack of trust all around.”

Then I think what was really bothering Gregory came out. “I have called my Ukrainian friends to talk about what is going on. Some of them have hung up. They refused to speak with me. I have never had a cross word with them. They didn’t want to talk to me now because I am Russian. My friends! How can such animosity grow so fast?” Clearly he was both hurt and bewildered.

We listened. Gregory apologized for even mentioning his concerns to us. He was reluctant to have a negative influence on out dining experience. We told Gregory we were interested in hearing from someone with a direct community view of this political crisis.

We wanted to leave Gregory on a hopeful note and a good wish. Clearly he was shocked and hurt over how he perceived people could turn so quickly, take sides without discussion, and create haves and have nots overnight. It was during this awkward parting that a young Ukrainian man asked two strangers to pray for his country. He did not ask us to pray for one point of view over another, not for Russia versus the EU, not for who was right against who was wrong. No, he asked we pray for his Ukraine country as a whole.

I was impressed by Gregory. We prayed as he asked.


Setting Goals

As I have for the last three years, I came to Marco Island, Florida on March 1. I will remain in this place of warmth and natural beauty until the end of the month. The first two weeks I spend in what I call my “monastic” life style. My goals are to walk miles, eat modestly, work on my tan, reduce stress levels, and enjoy no martinis until this period of deprivation ends and my bride Merita joins me for the last two weeks of the month. We spend time hiking and touring the Everglades which we find beautiful, challenging, and exciting.

In prior years I regularly failed to meet my self-imposed goals for exercise, diet, stress reduction and book writing. When Merita arrived, I was just a tanned version of the overtired, exhausted and somewhat ill tempered person who left Boston at the height of an ugly winter. I set my own goals and was a consistent underachiever.

It occurred to me recently only a fool would set goals for himself under these circumstances. I have worked to achieve goals all my life. For the first time ever I have no employer and am the master of my time- mostly. I really needed to rethink the whole idea of what I was doing and why I was here. I did exactly that.

I am happy to report that this year I have successfully abandoned all goal setting. I have walked 3.4 miles every day. I have stuck to my diet and lost weight. I have gotten the sequel to Necessary Assets well under way, and I joined the Marco Island Writers, Inc. I have met with my principal reader Ken O’Brien to discuss various book matters. My tan is great and I voted present at the pool or beach every day!

If and when I have the time, and if sufficiently motivated, I may reflect on how this lack of goals has allowed me to do more.

Perhaps by next year, I will have abandoned the “to do” list! Your thoughts?

No Deal With Snowden

I didn’t want to discuss the continued threats and whining of Edward Snowden. He clearly seeks to influence a perceived debate in this country on whether he is a whistleblower or a criminal traitor subject to prosecution. So far the government has stood firm.  He is charged as a criminal who will be prosecuted when in custody.

Snowden upped the ante a few weeks ago when he announced he stored a “doomsday-cache” of the stolen NSA data, which he encrypted, on the internet. It will be released “if anything happens to him.” Snowden asserts this material is even more damaging than any released by him so far. A former Director of the NSA and other top officials in the intelligence community state they believe Snowden’s threat is credible and he probably has such information.

It was disappointing to hear one high ranking intelligence official suggest we might have to consider a deal with Snowden to avoid further destruction to our intelligence program. At the same time Snowden complains publicly he cannot get a “fair trial” in the US. Many around the world have more confidence in our criminal justice system than does Snowden. Snowden appeals to those in fear of his threats by demanding he be treated as a whistleblower.

As a country we decided early on we cannot negotiate with terrorists. No matter how hard this is to accept in practice, it is a most difficult but necessary course of action.

I submit Snowden is acting like a terrorist with his latest threats while suggesting he wants to return to the US if only he could get that “fair trial.” Therefore, we should treat him like a terrorist. A physical attack upon the NSA by real terrorists would have done less damage than what Snowden has done to date and offers to do in the future.

Snowden’s real damage has already been done. He can embarrass us more but most of our adversaries now have a good idea of what to change, what to avoid, and where to plant false intelligence.  Whether true or not, most of the world now believes the US spies on everyone all the time without restriction. Other countries, friends or not, who are unable to do likewise only wish they could! If we kept secrets we should not have, or if we gathered intelligence improperly, I would rather have that come out and deal with the consequences than ever cut a deal with Snowden. You can never satisfy a bully, a blackmailer, or extortionist. You will never satisfy the demands of Edward Snowden. Don’t bother trying.

A Welcome Voice


            Who is this man, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, whom we now call Pope Francis? How is it in less than a year he has developed a worldwide audience eagerly waiting to hear his words while trusting in the wisdom of what he has to say?

The 266th Bishop of Rome is the first Jesuit Pope and the first non European Pope in over 1000 years. In Buenos Aires he is known as a parish priest who became a Bishop and later a Cardinal of the church. The picture emerges of a man who set his heart on serving the poor, the disenfranchised, and those who bear a greater share of life’s burdens. After his election to the Papacy on March 13, 2013 we are told Jorge next greeted his fellow Cardinals by walking among them and not by speaking from the customary Papal throne. That same night, he did not take the Papal limousine but chose to ride back to the conclave residence in the Cardinals’ bus. As in Buenos Aires, Pope Francis has chosen a new but simple residence inside the Vatican.

By his actions Pope Francis tells us he is and will remain a parish priest first and foremost. He appears, by example, to remind his colleagues of the underlying vocation they all share.

In his words to date, Pope Francis has already reached out to address Jews, Muslims, Orthodox Catholics, Protestants, other religious groups, even non believers, to discuss his positive view of personal salvation. These are not new conversations for him but a continuation on a larger stage of the same conversations he has had for years with these same groups in Argentina. He also asked these groups to pray for him. In 10 months, Pope Francis has convinced many he truly speaks as a worthy servant of God and not as a master.

I believe Pope Francis speaks the truth as he knows it, as best he can, to all people, especially the marginalized. He speaks to anyone and everyone who can hear him. He wants all of us to stand with him in front of a mirror and ask if we could perhaps do a little better. He does not use the nuanced dialogue of a Vatican diplomat or theologian. He has not given up his priesthood to become a Papal administrator. He is the real thing, a sorely needed fresh voice of truth in a world full of self absorbed interests and political leaders. I find the New Year promising because of his new voice.

Which Comes First

At this time of year we celebrate the festival of lights called Hanukah as well as the Christmas season. We are encouraged to concentrate on hope, joy, giving, and securing peace in our world. To do this we must be positive. Being positive is often a harder path to follow than wallowing in the negative always blaming “them.”

If I comment about the continuing threats to our national peace and security, I may be addressing the symptoms and not the problem. We yearn for peace and civility in our family, community, and national public lives. We yearn for this same peace and civility, based on a mutual respect for all human welfare, in our international lives. We seem to have neither peace nor civility. Can we as individual citizens even consider addressing such a vast concern? Perhaps we can.

Our political leaders know of our displeasure with their performance but remain unable to get beyond partisan bickering. Many, but not all, have lost their ability to listen to others. Some have lost their respect for truth. We give these leaders poor national performance ratings but they seem not to notice and to care only for the “wisdom” of their own voices.

I would offer that we acknowledge this vacuum of leadership and agree we cannot wait for “them” to change. We must make the change ourselves, one person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time. I need to start with myself. You need to start with yourself. I must become a more positive source of kindness, concern, and respect for all whom I meet on life’s journey. No exceptions. When others speak, I must devote my attention to listening. Learning comes more from conversations with others then from inner self-revelations.

I can start by making it a habit to extend a warm greeting to everyone I meet. I have always liked the Muslim greeting “As-Salaam-Alaikum,” peace be unto you. The response “Alaikum-As-Salaam” returns the wish for peace. It is the standard salutation exchanged between Muslims, given many times a day, and is often accompanied by a physical sign of affection. In Judaism, the simple greeting Shalom is well understood.  In Christianity, the Gospels constantly encourage us to extend the wish of God’s peace upon each other.

We are taught we should love our neighbor as ourselves. This is a scary proposition, but one we need to incorporate into our personal, professional, and community lives. Those who offer their time, talent, and treasure in service to others often say they receive far more than they give.

Let us take a moment to reflect on how we can use a simple greeting this holiday season to begin a higher level of interaction with others. Let us think about changing ourselves first so that we might serve as examples to others. Let us think about the art of listening. Let’s start at home and from there go forward to the neighborhood, the business, and our community.  We can more forcefully demand better behavior from our national and international leaders when we can demonstrate we have made the necessary adjustments in our own personal lives. This must come first.