Thy have been called idiots, drunks, jerks, thugs, hooligans, goons, anarchists, retards, reptiles, louts, losers, low-lifes, morons, and a number of other less flattering things I am not comfortable repeating. Those of us who did not participate in their activities have rushed to explain the reasons behind their behaviour and to call for the full extent of the law to be brought to bear against them.

These are all ways by which we attempt to distance ourselves from the violence they perpetrated in the streets of Vancouver last Wednesday evening after the Canucks loss in the Stanley Cup finals. They are thugs; I am not a thug. I would never do such a thing. I am not implicated.

But our explanations are mostly fanciful speculation. The name calling solves nothing. Even the stampede to bring them to justice does not address the real issues here.

Gary Mason in Saturday’s “Globe and Mail” came the closest I have seen to pointing to a valuable lesson that may be drawn from “The sad, painful truth about the Vancouver rioters’ true identities.” Mason wrote,

Officials are quick to blame anarchists and other thugs, but it was really middle-class sons and daughters who destroyed Vancouver streets

While police and politicians continue to lay the blame for this week’s Stanley Cup riot in Vancouver on professional anarchists and hardened thugs with deep-seated criminal tendencies, the blogosphere and social networks such as Facebook have been revealing a much more uncomfortable truth.

Many of those who participated in the riot were not these types of people at all. They were, in many instances, the sons and daughters of good, upstanding citizens who today must still be in shock over what they’ve learned.

The violent actions in Vancouver on Wednesday June 15 were not carried out by a few crazed animals. The young men turning over cars and trashing stores, the looters, and the crowds standing cheering them on, go to the same highschools our children attend. On another day we might all sit and cheer for them as they compete in a school sporting event, or receive an award at their graduation.

The important thing to see in Vancouver is that it was not about someone else. The violence of that night of burning cars lurks just beneath the surface in the dark hidden places of all our hearts. There is not a great deal of distance between us and the young man swinging a hockey stick through a plate glass window. Given the right set of circumstances, or perhaps better, the wrong set of circumstances, we could all join in the crazed antics of a violent mob.

Vancouver is a mirror held up to our civilized faces. It is a challenge to face my own violence.

It challenges me to acknowledge the violence of my own thoughts, the harsh words I utter, the dismissive attitudes to which I resort against those I perceive to be threatening or inferior. In the angry young faces I am invited to hear the vicious phrase with which I dismiss the person who disagrees with a cherished viewpoint I hold.

Having looked honestly into the darkness of my own heart, I need to take the next step and choose over and over to respond differently to my life as it unfolds. I need to find within myself the ability to choose gentleness towards the driver who cuts me off in traffic, patience towards the woman who stands in front of me in the check out line fumbling endlessly with her change, grace towards the boss who unjustly passes me over for a promotion.

Acknowledging honestly my violence is the only hope for creating a less violent world. I cannot blame the violence of our culture on thugs and idiots; it is our problem. And, just as I share the problem, I must share the solution by choosing to live more gently in the world.