By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
“Acting responsibly in an irresponsible world!” was a topic I created for a class conversation in my Introduction to Social Work class at Suffolk County Community College.
The conversation that ensued was beyond words. These college students represent the next generation of leaders and thinkers. They were insightful and challenging. It was clear to me that they were not being influenced by our present class of leaders or lack thereof.
What does it mean to live in an irresponsible world? They immediately pointed to our federal government and the lack of leadership. They expressed amazement at how so many bright, well-educated and experienced lawmakers could not have a civil conversation on any real issue. It should not matter if the participants are from the same political party or different political parties. They have been elected by the people to build bridges not walls.
This dynamic group of college coeds, most of whom are juniors and seniors, continued to talk about our irresponsible world. They touched on everything from undocumented immigration to health care, gangs, gun safety, racism, human trafficking and our poor care for the poorest of the poor among us.
As the conversation moved from an irresponsible world to acting responsibly, these students spoke about what really matters to them. No matter who is speaking, from the president to a homeless person, no one has the right to speak disrespectfully of another, to demean, name call and put people down.
Words matter. Calling people scum and lowlifes, making fun, calling people negative names; the list is endless and is clearly inappropriate. When people in public office engage in that kind of language, they dishonor and disgrace the office they hold, from the presidency to Congress.
What my students found most disturbing is that so many respectable people elected to serve the needs of all Americans have been silent about this reprehensible language or have made lame excuses for why it is not a big deal. Some of our religious leaders have also have been painfully silent on this issue.
My students pointed out that if their teacher or clergy person acted in this way, he or she would be sanctioned immediately and removed from their position. They expressed sadness that this behavior has clearly lessened respect for the most important office in the land — the office of the presidency.
So how do you act responsibly in an irresponsible world? Despite their poor role models in this regard, my students spoke passionately about being responsible, caring for the poor, being men and women of honesty, respect and integrity.
They acknowledged the need for more civic engagement on their part so that they can change the social and political order. They expressed a genuine commitment to restoring the social and political order to a civil and respectful landscape where all Americans are treated equally with dignity and respect.
These students expressed there is no place on the American landscape for racism, discrimination, violence, hate groups, divisiveness — no matter what one’s nationality, religion, economic status and sexual orientation.
We are a nation that was founded on religious liberty and freedom for all; a nation committed to social justice and human rights; a nation that must work to build bridges and not walls.
When the class finished on that Wednesday afternoon, I left renewed and hopeful that things will get better for all of us thanks to the next generation!
Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.