Last week, I had the privilege of attending a community meeting hosted by U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller about the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Since there was little doubt that our soon-to-retire senator was going to vote for VAWA, the event was really an opportunity to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence.
Invited guests included survivors, social workers and advocates who work tirelessly to address the issue. A local police officer was the only man selected as a designated speaker for the round table discussion, but he received a great deal of Rockefeller’s attention.
While domestic violence survivors told heart-breaking stories, many of Rockefeller’s questions were directed to the police officer. The Senator seemed absolutely fascinated by the officer’s description of our local police department’s ride-along program, which provides an opportunity for community members to literally ride along with police officers during any shift. Those who participate have the opportunity to really understand what police face and learn about some of the biggest issues facing our community.
At the time, Rockefeller’s intense interest in the program seemed a little off topic. But in retrospect, I think the Senator was demonstrating what true wisdom is.
In a world where people are intentionally inflicting harm on others, where relationships are often about power struggles rather than support and where individuals are suffering on a daily basis, true wisdom is knowing that doing the right thing requires more than simply responding to the needs of others. Maybe because I’ve recently been watching too many people who think doing the right thing means doing things their way without considering all that others have or could contribute, Rockefeller’s reminder has stuck with me:
Doing the right thing means ensuring resources and services are available for those in need, but is also means focusing on what is positive and good.
Doing the right thing means reinforcing and promoting positive and healthy relationships among people and organizations.
And doing the right thing means really listening to others and acknowledging the power of what they are saying and all they are contributing.
That’s the wisdom Senator Rockefeller brought to the table. Unfortunately, he won’t be at the table much longer. Last month, he announced he will not be seeking a sixth term as U.S. Senator after his current term ends in 2014. West Virginia lost Senator Robert Byrd in 2010, and now we are losing Senator Jay Rockefeller. Regardless of political affiliation, all West Virginians should recognize the implications.
The cynical among us might say that caring about the poor was easy for Rockefeller, who was born into one of the richest families in America and never had to worry about money.
But I disagree.
Instead of choosing to live a life devoted to money rather than meaning, he chose to work on behalf of people who live in one of the poorest states in the nation. And even though I live closer to Washington D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New York City than I do to our state capitol, I still care about what happens to this state.
And I’m hoping whoever steps into his position is someone who understands the importance of asking a local city police officer to explain a simple program that involves reaching out to others to develop stronger partnerships and healthy relationships.
That’s wisdom and a reminder about how we should all live our lives.
Thank you for your service and your wisdom, Senator Rockefeller.