“We must listen to others” – This was the key message of Pardeep Kaleka to SCJs during this morning’s Advent Hour of Recollection for SCJs via Zoom (December 13).
Pardeep’s life path changed dramatically on August 5, 2012, when a white supremacist opened fire on the Sikh Temple that his father –– Satwant Singh Kaleka –– had founded in suburban Milwaukee. The elder Kaleka was among those who died in the shooting. Pardeep has since devoted his life to reconciliation and finding ways to address hate and violence.
Pardeep said that it was seeing the faces of the children in his faith community that compelled him to refocus his life. “I looked at those children and saw in their faces a question, ‘Do we belong in this country?’ The promise of America was being threatened. Pain was going to take this generation.”
Wade Michael Page was the white supremacist who attacked the Sikh temple. “I think it is important to say his name,” said Pardeep. “Wade Michael Page was a person who grew up in this country, he was once a baby, a child. It is too easy to just say that he was a monster. We have to ask ‘Who created this monster? What created this monster?’
“What created this monster was a rejectionist society. Reject the ideology – yes, reject some of the system. But we must not reject the person; the person was a human being.”
Pardeep wanted to understand what inspired a person to act with such violence, to embrace such hate. To do so, he reached out to someone who knew the culture from which the shooter came: Arno Mihaelis. Before choosing a different path, Arno was a white supremacist, founder of the “Hammerskins,” a prominent skinhead group.
The call to Arno was what Pardeep later defined as an exercise in “transformational will.” As they came to know one another, Pardeep asked Arno if he knew why some people turned to such violence.
“What he said to me is that ‘Hurt people hurt other people, and sometimes they hurt themselves,’” said Pardeep. “As a society we need to work on listening to pain with a sense of wisdom, not a sense of offense or explanation or whatever coping mechanism we use to rationalize or deal with pain.
“The way forward is to listen to pain.”
Much of Pardeep’s work in non-violence is now through the organization “Not in Our Town” which works on the local level to bring people together from the public and private sectors, federal, state and local law enforcement, faith communities, educators, school administrators and others to help each become attuned to what the escalation of hate and bias looks like.
“For me, the past ten years has been about trying to harness this transformational will, and to do it by listening to others.”
During his presentation, Pardeep shared a clip of a video done by Not in Our Tow. Click here to view it in full.