Dear Lauren,

I’m only 14. Not sure how I’m supposed to help/make a difference regarding what happened last week in Charlottesville, even though I do want to do something… What do you suggest?

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

I heard two comments this week which made me think of your question. One was a person talking to me about his cousin. He said, “He’s such a cool dude now. But when he was younger, he was just a little twerp.” The other comment was: “My little brother is such a brat.” Those two people didn’t even mean to be derogatory. They were just talking the way they naturally talk, describing other people. I was shocked by both comments—because they were said perfectly matter-of-factly, without the speakers’ even thinking that they were being hurtful and mean.

There’s been a lot of debate this week over the right to freedom of speech, and what counts as hate speech, and what behavior is threatening and violent, and what level of negative speech and behavior should be allowed before law enforcement step in.

I’d say the best response to Charlottesville, for teens, for kids, and even for adults, is to pay attention our own speech and behavior, and make sure that it is impeccably kind. When you describe your little brother, call him loving names. “Sweet,” “adorable,” “smart,” “capable,” “full of energy”…the list could go on. NOT “brat,” “obnoxious,” “spoiled,” “sissy,” “annoying”…. We create the reality of our world with our words. And we create the reality of our fellow human beings’ world with our words.

Proverbs says, “Life and death are determined by the power of our speech.” Our words and our actions with our own family, our own friends, the people we stand on line with in the grocery store create reality. So you might live in Santa Rosa, California, or Sydney, Australia, or Tzfas, Israel, or Wilmington, Delaware, or Boise, Idaho—it doesn’t matter. Anywhere you are, you are creating the world we all inhabit.

So even if you live way out in the middle of the plains or the mountains or in a little coastal town, your actions and your words towards those around you change my world and your world.

When we discussed your very question around our Shabbos table, we decided that in the face of Charlottesville, our responsibilities included: 1. Praying for peace. 2. Being kind to those around us. 3. Making sure that we are especially kind and good and friendly to non-Jews who know we are Jewish (“Making a kiddush Hashem”).

Last week, I watched Moana for the first time. (Great music, by the way! Another wonderful way to bring peace and happiness to people is to share beautiful music.) It struck me that the reason Moana was able to brave the dangers of the sea and monsters and pirates and tough guys was because her family and her community loved her. She had that incredibly strong base from which to draw her strength, so she had the psychic power to be brave, courageous, and strong in the face of danger and terror and sadness. We can create that strong, loving, family and community base for the people around us. And then they will be able to face anything.

If you can help your little brother learn to trust—by showing him he can trust you; if you can help your neighbor learn to trust—by showing her she can trust you; if you can help your friends learn to trust—by showing them they can trust you; then you will be well on your way to healing the world from the pain of racism and hatred.