Lycoming County Brotherhood Alliance

May 4, 2016—Williamsport, PA

First I want to congratulate both William Nichols and Donna Bastian on their honors tonight. Hearing about your community involvement, the recognition is certainly deserved and is certainly indicative of what the Lycoming County Brotherhood Alliance is all about—so hats off to both of you.

 

What a night and what a setting for this event. This is a great place and a great town with a lot going on. The theater here in town is beautiful—I saw Lyle Lovett play here a few years ago. In the fall of 2014 one of the first book signings I did was at Otto Bookstore on a First Friday.

 

After signing books for a few hours I was starving so a friend of mine and I headed into Franco’s Lounge and felt right at home.

 

For years for my family the town of Williamsport was always linked to a family friend—Attorney Mike Casale. He was like another grandfather to my brothers and sisters and to me. He always arrived with Italian cookies, pasta and candy. Every year at Christmas he gave us $10—which, in those days, was real money.

 

Frank Pelligrino may be here. He got me up here a couple of years ago to speak at a Banquet for St John Neuman. He has obviously had a lot of success here. I also want to offer my family’s condolences on the recent loss of his mother.

 

Keeping with the Italian theme…. I think Tony DiSalvo may be around…Tony played in the Penn State football fantasy camp a few years ago. He must have been a good player in his YOUTH—because he was pretty good when he got to us and he was middle-aged. Today he is probably the fastest middle-aged Italian guy on the planet. Now that I have recognized enough Italians…..

 

Going back to the two nights I was here for book signings—I heard over and over so many nice things about my mother and father. The respect they expressed and their loyalty are part of the core values that we have always held dear here in the Keystone State.

 

Respect and loyalty to one another…….that seems like a good jumping off point to get into what I want to talk to you about tonight. It is why we are here.

 

Right on the web page for the Lycoming County Brotherhood Alliance it states the purpose of this organization: “The primary focus of The Lycoming County Brotherhood Alliance is to promote the universal theme of understanding, tolerance and community harmony through brotherhood. Brotherhood; practiced daily, in the work place, at home and in all interactions with others, is the underlying tenant of a rational and humanistic society. It is our belief that the promotion of brotherhood is often played out in quiet, unassuming and humble ways through the lives of many citizens of Lycoming County. We believe these lives should be recognized in a public way.”

 

Let me pick out and highlight a few of the key words that just leap off the page at me: Understanding-----Tolerance-----Community Harmony.

 

Think about those words and then contrast them with the tenor of the political debate we are having in this country. We are spending time and energy drawing lines that divide us. Politicians are selling fear and division and we are buying it up.

 

Some of the people and politicians sowing division and mistrust are people who claim to adhere to their Judeo-Christian religious beliefs.

 

While I am certainly not a Theologian or biblical scholar I can say this with certainty; I have never seen any teachings in the Bible that taught hate or asked us to turn our backs on one another.

 

In fact there are beautiful lessons in the Bible that teach us just the opposite. There is the story where men asked God “When did we see you hungry or naked or without shelter?” and God tells them that whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers that you do unto me.

 

God said the least of my brothers….not the wealthiest, not only the ones who look like you or worship like you, not just for people who can return the favor, or people of power—but God said THE LEAST OF MY BROTHERS.

 

It reminds me of a note on teamwork I found among my own father’s files after he had died. I included it in the book Paterno Legacy. “Anybody can love something that is beautiful or smart or agile. You will never know love until you can love something that isn’t beautiful, isn’t bright, isn’t glamorous. It takes a special person to love something unattractive, someone unknown. That is the test of love. Can you accept someone for his inabilities—you might have a guy playing next to you who maybe isn’t perfect, but you’ve got to love him, and maybe that love would enable you to help him. We don’t want to be picking on each other, but rather what can I do to make it easier for my teammate. Crucial to a team’s success”

 

I would argue that those words are crucial to society’s success.

 

I would also argue that we as a society have a tendency to focus on the wrong things. The people who draw the most attention on social media and in our national consciousness are the wealthy, the powerful and the one’s we deem most beautiful. Too often what we seek is not the radiance of one’s soul but rather the external beauty that is merely skin-deep.

 

Can we accept people for their inabilities? Can we accept people who are different in some way?

 

Even more important are we even capable of recognizing and accepting our own faults, imperfections and inabilities.

 

We may have been fashioned in God’s image but we were all born to the imperfections of our very humanity.

The Jewish Theologian and Rabbi Abraham Heschel once said “The cure of the soul begins with a sense of embarrassment, embarrassment at our pettiness, prejudices, envy, and conceit; embarrassment at the profanation of life. A world that is full of grandeur has been converted into a carnival.”

 

He wrote those words years ago—but they are even truer today.

 

Those words call on us to reflect on our own faults and realize how each one of our lives becomes another thread in the tapestry of our society. Will we add silken threads from the goodness of our hearts or will we offer rough woolen threads to form a coarser nation? Will our interactions become less and less personal, reflecting a life that has become more profane, more of a carnival?

 

We hide behind the anonymity and camouflage of social media and say the most vicious things we can to each other.

 

Our challenge in 2016 is to listen. Over the din of society’s white noise of false promises and selfishness we need to heed the call, hear the words of people who call us together, not the people who spew venom at those who are unlike us.

 

True leadership can only be achieved by seeing our own flaws and working to improve those places where we fall short. Real leadership is not achieved by pointing fingers at others. Great leaders spend time finding ways to unify us through our common humanity rather than try and divide us against each other while trying to gather a majority to your side so that you can be elected.

 

For all that makes us different there are certain things that almost all of us share. We want peace, we want to provide for our children and families. We hope that the dreams of the next generation become reality and that they will outlive us.

 

Almost every parent knows those moments at night when we are awake in the dark and we worry about a child’s education, safety, health, or maybe as we’ve seen increasingly in our society it is about a child battling addiction.   

 

These are universal things.

 

There are things that we should recognize in each other and should be a common bond of brotherhood, or sisterhood, or a common humanity.

 

I was fortunate to coach at Penn State for 17 years. In that time I was part of a program that truly reflected the ideals that Martin Luther King, Jr hoped would be true for all of society.

 

Because of visionary leadership from Coaches, to Administration to professors and alumni we had a program where the players were judged by the content of their character and their performance and not by the color of their skin, their socioeconomic class, who they chose to love or the way they chose to worship.

On offense we stood in a huddle in common purpose. On defense in our team huddle we held hands symbolizing a bond, a common cause and purpose.

 

In America today the vast majority of people believe in our common cause, of being part of a nation that is greater than the sum of our individual parts. Your community and your presence here proves that. This is about Alliance and Brotherhood.

 

But there are those who want to turn their backs on anyone who is unlike us. We have been sold that America’s Greatness is a zero-sum game and that there is only so much to go around and we need to get our piece before others take it from us.

In a speech in Springfield, Illinois in 1858 Abraham Lincoln paraphrased scripture in a time of impending crisis in this country. He said:

 

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."

 

Do not fall prey to the seductive siren call of division, for if we do our house , our nation cannot stand.

 

My family’s religious tradition is rooted in Catholicism. My mother has tried to instill those values in her family.

 

But she taught us that our religion was not the only way for all people and to respect and embrace people pf all faiths and traditions. She and my father contributed money to an all-faith spiritual center at Penn State that houses dozens of different campus ministries.

 

In our house we weren’t merely taught about tolerance—tolerance is a passive word –we can ignore others and tell ourselves that we are tolerant. What we were taught was to go beyond tolerance to acceptance. Acceptance is active, it is extending a hand to everyone regardless of our differences.

 

There is a story my brother Scott shared with me about my father that I want to share with you tonight. Shortly after the attacks on 9/11 my parents were out to dinner in State College. During dinner a group of women came in all of them wearing Hijab—the Muslim head covering.

 

As my father noticed the eyeballs of other patrons staring at the women, and noticed the women noticing the stares, he got up and went over to their table and sat down for a few moments to talk with them.

 

It was simple. It wasn’t a huge effort—just a small step to make them understand that this is a nation where we welcome all. He wanted others in the restaurant to see his example and understand that the actions of a few did not speak  for all people of that faith.

It was simple. It wasn’t a huge effort—just a small step to make them understand that this is a nation where we welcome all. He wanted others in the restaurant to see his example and understand that the actions of a few did not speak  for all people of that faith.

 

Remember in the parable of the Good Samaritan—it was a Samaritan a perceived enemy who stopped and helped the Jewish Traveler who had been robbed, beaten and left for dead.

 

Remember the words of Christ’s Sermon on the Mount:

 

“Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

 

They are words of unity and peace, words of humility and healing. But they are POWERFUL words—words that should echo like thunder in the canyons of thought that divide us.

 

We live in a time where it is all too easy to hear words of selfishness over the call to be selfless.

 

Our egos bruise too easily.  Words spoken by the Ancient Roman Marcus Aurelius thousands of years ago are still relevant. He said:

 

“Reject your sense of injury and the injury itself disappears.”

 

To reject our sense of injury is not always easy—but by doing so we take the high road. That is what leadership looks like. It means letting go of grudges and anger. I know it is tough to let go of a grudge.

 

Rejecting your sense of injury requires us to heed the words of an Arabian Proverb:

 

“Write the bad things that are done to you in the sand, but write the good things that happen to you on a piece of marble.”

 

That is a nice way to think about it, and an uplifting way to live your life while leading others. It is a path that builds the bonds of community.

 

Community starts really at a molecular level—person to person and builds from there. For 46 years as head coach at Penn State Joe Paterno always led his teams in the Our Father before and after games.  The team would kneel, hold hands and recite the prayer.

 

To him it was not a denominational prayer. It was a common prayer that called us to common cause and reminded us of our shared existence, our shared humanity.

 

What he really liked about that prayer was that every pronoun—EVERY PRONOUN—was plural. OUR father, Give US this day, OUR daily bread, Forgive US OUR trespasses as WE forgive Others….

 

WE and US. It was a team prayer, it was a reminder to put differences aside and come together.

It was a recognition of our individual responsibility to each other as teammates. That to me is what this country needs now more than ever. A call to unity, a call to welcome all. A call to be The Good Samaritan to each other, To love each other despite our inabilities, to heal our souls, to be merciful, to be peacemakers, to reject our sense of injury.

 

What tonight is all about is building brotherhood in this community—looking past division for a common good. I have always believed this:  We as people stand tallest when we bend to lift others up.

 

It takes small steps—it doesn’t take gigantic courageous acts. It takes what it says right on the web site of the Lycoming Brotherhood Alliance.

 

“Brotherhood; practiced daily, in the work place, at home and in all interactions with others”

 

Practiced daily at work and at home in all interactions with others. When you put it that way it seems so easy so simple…then why is it so hard?

 

Because it is human nature to lose focus—our impatience allows us to get overwhelmed by the big problems that take time to solve.

 

Just focus on the small steps--they will create real change. When you build a house you must start with the foundation. In this country our community is the foundation we must have to build a house united within itself and not divided against itself.

 

That will be what creates the society that will endure across the changes of time.

 

I will leave you with a quote from a speech given by Robert F Kennedy in South Africa in 1966—at the time one of the most divided countries in the world.

 

He said: "Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance."

 

Our challenge as we leave tonight is to practice Brotherhood DAILY. Each of us will send out our own tiny ripples of hope—and together we will build the waves to drown the voices of division, discord and hate.

 

That is the challenge we face in America. If we take small steps creating ripples of hope our Brotherhood across race and religion will endure as the example to the rest of the world that we have always been.

 

Thank You

© 2014 Jay Paterno