The Clementi family’s compassion

Instead of the predictable thanks or celebration, a hopeful message

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This post first appeared on Mondoweiss.

I’m on a misanthropic kick. I think that people are selfish and mean. I believe the truth of the Colonel Sherburn chapter in Huck Finn, that humanity is vicious and cowardly and easily swayed. And our religions are outmoded and encode the worst impulses in tribal society.

Well, below is the statement made yesterday by Joe Clementi, father of the late Tyler Clementi, after the conviction of his son’s former roommate Dharun Ravi in the hate-crime spying case at Rutgers that caused his son to commit suicide in 2010.

The statement on behalf of the Clementi family contains no thanks to the jury, no celebration of the conviction. In its crucial paragraphs, you will see that Joe Clementi steps outside his family’s pain and puts himself in the shoes of other young Dharun Ravis who will see other gay people, and hate them:

Just a word about personal responsibility.

To our college, high school and even middle-school youngsters, I would say this: You’re going to meet a lot of people in your lifetime. Some of these people you may not like. But just because you don’t like them, does not mean you have to work against them. When you see somebody doing something wrong, tell them, “That’s not right. Stop it.”

You can make the world a better place. The change you want to see in the world begins with you.

I sense that the Clementis want to forgive Dharun Ravi, and they seek some statement/action from him that will allow them to do so.

Also in this statement is the Clementis’ own dedication to a purpose. Like the Corrie family that built a foundation out of the loss of their daughter in a politically-charged crime nine years ago– for which there has been no accountability from the Israeli government or the American government– the Clementis are taking this evidence of the worst of humanity and trying to change social mores for the internet age:

We have come to understand that the criminal law is only one way of addressing these problems and that there are other ways that are better, particularly when it comes to changing the values and behavior of young people in [the] important areas of respect, privacy, responsibility in a digital world.

As you know, our lives have taken a new turn, and we’re on a mission to address these issues in an affirmative way through the Tyler Clementi Foundation, which we have set up in memory of our son. We hope that the media attention will not fade and that positive efforts on these important issues will be acknowledged.

I’m focused on the worst of humanity these days. But there sure are some exceptions.

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