My little brother lives in a nursing home in St. Louis County. When he was 17-years-old, he was shot multiple times and became paralyzed from the neck down. I remember the day vividly, steeped in my frustration, pain and anger. I was frustrated by my powerlessness to prevent it, pained by the seemingly never ending cycle of violence that caused it, and angry at the loss of my brother’s potential as a result of it.
I can appreciate Victor Frankl’s statement, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” By changing ourselves, I believe we can change the world.
My older brother and I wanted nothing more that day than to lash out at the world, and this would have been typical in our environment where options seemed limited. Thankfully, in a moment of clarity and grace, we made a different decision. We made a decision that would be one of many subsequent defining moments.
We decided we had to change ourselves, starting with how we valued our own lives. We had to imagine a future that broke the cycle, and start to create something different for ourselves. People have to be able to see a future…to have meaning in their lives and something to reach for. People have to believe that there are possibilities that lie beyond their current struggle in order to move beyond it. We will be hard pressed to reduce violence and more generally promote life and prosperity throughout the region if our people don’t have meaning and purpose.
Many years later, as a quadriplegic, my brother is much more reflective on the choices he made at 17. He has come to the conclusion that he still has more life to live, that the poor choices he made in his youth don’t have to define the rest of his days. To change the trajectory of a generation, we have to help people find meaning in their lives and drive them to a brighter future.