We can learn from Wade Michael Page

Mario Tama GETTY IMAGES Supporters gather during a candlelight vigil in Union Square for victims of the Wisconsin Sikh temple … Continued

Mario Tama


Supporters gather during a candlelight vigil in Union Square for victims of the Wisconsin Sikh temple shooting on August 8, 2012 in New York City.

Tuesday night I sat with my children at the Sikh temple in Memphis and wondered what triggered Wade Michael Page to kill six people at the Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wis.. Though no one will know for sure, this much seems certain: Page had seeds of white supremacism planted in his mind for decades.

I also wondered what I could do to avert future massacres. For this I reached back to my faith.

The Eastern religions tell us that the precursor to hateful and violent actions is hateful and violent speech. This was evident in Page. He associated himself with neo-Nazis and founded a band whose song lyrics spoke of “getting rid” of the “enemies of the white race” and “gathering your guns.” Page had a tattoo on his right arm with the number 14 representing the following words. “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.”

Though you and I would likely never imagine using such inflammatory speech and taking part in such violent actions, there is much we can learn from Page. Every moment we must be mindful because our words can be deceitful, slanderous, malicious, harsh or vile. Our words can mend or rip apart friendships and family relationships. Our words can wage wars or attain peace. And oftentimes it is these very words, our speech, which translate into actions.

View Photo Gallery: After a shooting at a temple in Wisconsin leaves six dead, Sikhs and their supporters mourn while the nation learns more about the gunman’s ties to the white supremacy movement.

Daniel C. Britt


ROCKVILLE, MD – Lindsay Webster, 30 of Alexandria, Vs., waves to a friend at the National Sikh Center in Rockville, MD, on Tuesday, August 7, 2012. The center temple will host prayer services and a candlelight vigils this week for the six Sikh victimsof the Oak Creek, Wis., shooting.

Our Constitution has drawn a line. It is illegal to commit hateful and violent actions, but hateful speech, similar to Page’s lyrics, tattoos and writings, is protected under the First Amendment. Nevertheless, some workplaces, college campuses and other nations are not so lenient. Germany, for example, has strict laws prohibiting hate speech.

So what makes people advocate hatred and violence? The Eastern religions tell us that the precursors to our words are our thoughts. Thoughts and intentions drive our speech. An angry thought makes us blurt out a curse, and a fearful situation makes us scream. By the same token, a quiet calm mind softens our voice.

So what can I do? As a parent I limit the use of violent video games and movies for my children. While study results have been conflicting, a review of the literature, published by the American Psychological Association, found that violent video games are associated with increased aggressive behavior, thoughts, and affect; increased physiological arousal; and decreased helping behavior. I even avoid purchasing plastic guns that resemble real guns, because I understand the cascade effect of thoughts to speech to actions.

Though the relationship among thoughts, speech and action may appear too simplistic, it is an integral part of a 2,500-year-old tradition of an eight-fold path in Buddhism and what are called the “Jewels of Jainism” on how to reduce suffering in our lives.

Each year at the Gandhi-King Conference on Peacemaking sponsored by the National Civil Rights Museum here in Memphis, the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and a number of local organizations, we discuss how to promote nonviolent thought, speech and action in our community and our world.

We talk about our need to transform ourselves and those around us. Transform our thoughts of anger to forgiveness and hatred to understanding. Transform our speech of unfounded criticism to genuine praise, and cursing to compliments. Transform our actions of hurting to healing and discrimination to equality.

Mahatma Gandhi, an apostle of nonviolence, once said:

As a nation if we wish to have a destiny of nonviolence or the Promised Land the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., dreamed about, we must foster nonviolent thoughts, speech and actions – whether it be in the workplace or on the playground, in the movies or on video games or simply by our emails or passing conversations.

A close friend from the Indian community who lives near Oak Creek visited the Sikh temple a few hours after the shooting, and in an email he wrote to me, “I saw a white-clad guru with a white turban and a long flowing white beard. With a saintly smile he said to all of us, ‘We have no anger or animosity to anyone. We must keep calm and faith.’”

To me, the nonviolent words of the white-turbaned Sikh guru speak louder than the hate and violent actions of the shooter.

View Photo Gallery: First off, Sikhs are not Muslims. This monotheistic religion, founded in 15th-centory Punjab (now North India and Pakistan), preaches equality of all mankind and peace. The faith, the world’s fifth-largest organized religion, does not have clergy. Spiritual guides are known as gurus. There are more than 25 million Sikhs worldwide, including roughly 700,000 in the United States, according to the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Dr. Manoj Jain

is an infectious disease physician in Memphis and a writer whose writings have appeared in The Washington Post and the Commercial Appeal and the New York Times.

Written by

  • persiflage

    As more white people are thrown on the economic trash heap, you can expect the statistics to change – probably dramatically. An under-current of hopelessness is spreading, and that’s not good at all. This has always been part and parcel of entrenched criminal behavior. White people still run this government and most of corporate America.

  • persiflage

    PS. If all the white collar criminals that belonged in prison actually were in prision, you’d witness nothing but a sea of white faces staring back at you from the prison yard.

  • RickWatcher

    Proverbs 18:21 Death and life [are] in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof.
    James 3:5-6 Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth! And the tongue [is] a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.
    Proverbs 23:7 For as he thinketh in his heart, so [is] he:

    Most all religions have some truth and most every religion is exclusionary, we’re right and you’re wrong, and while every religion can be wrong, only one can be right. Every religion but one says do these things and see paradise or nirvana or what have you. Only Christ says that you can do nothing to be saved but repent of your sin and turn to Him. We have removed His light from our lives more and more in this nation and then you are surprised when evil takes His place.
    Better wake up to the truth before it’s too late.

  • Rongoklunk

    I like the way all the religions of the supernatural have come together. Instead of the wars against those who worshiped a different God – nowadays it’s like “We won’t knock your invisible God, if you don’t knock our invisible God.” As atheism slowly gathers more sceptics – religions have each other to justify their totally irrational beliefs still existing in this wonderful world of knowledge, science and amazing technology. Truth is far more important than any religion.

  • julcubdish

    nothing wrong to be proud and defend our own cultural heritage. I am very proud of my Europeans roots,via Latin America.

  • Catken1

    “We have removed His light from our lives more and more in this nation and then you are surprised when evil takes His place”

    Yeah, you all had the gall to not follow my religion, and then you’re surprised that some evil nutcase shot you! You deserve to be shot, because you aren’t Christian!

    Dear Gods, if there be any, how offensive and awful those beliefs are!

    And why is it somehow an argument for your religion or your beliefs to say that you can’t do anything to save yourself, but must trust in your god? It’s a theological belief, it’s not evidence for or against your faith. Why does that make Christianity more believable in any way, to argue that those who honestly attempted to live by other faiths, who were taught those faiths from childhood by everyone they loved and trusted, deserve to burn in agony forever and ever because they chose the wrong belief to devote themselves to? Especially since your god does not choose to provide substantial, rational, obvious and/or testable evidence for his existence or nature in any way.

    “while every religion can be wrong, only one can be right.”

    No, not really. Not all religions are mutually exclusive. It is quite possible, for example, to be both Shinto and Buddhist- many Japanese people manage both quite nicely. (Many other religions are compatible with Buddhism as well, as Buddhism is rather silent on the existence and/or nature of deity.)

  • Catken1

    Actually, I suspect my (incidentally) white child’s existence and future is MUCH better protected by ensuring a world where people aren’t defined by their skin color or ethnicity, and where religious freedom is available to all. I’d rather see my son grow up in a world with more people who looked and behaved like the Sikhs who were shot, than with more people who looked and behaved like their murderer.

    And yes, I enjoy and celebrate my own cultural heritage, but that by no means requires tearing down other people’s. I can go to Oktoberfest AND to Obon, to St. Patrick’s Day parades AND to Native American powwows, and enjoy myself just as thoroughly as any of them. There are role models of every color and every nationality, all of whom I would be proud to see my son imitate.

    And yes, when Jews, Mexicans or Native Americans decide they must celebrate their heritage by killing innocent worshippers of another heritage in their place of worship, I will condemn that too. Haven’t seen much of that, mind you.