Crimes such as the one in Toa Baja a few days ago- where there seem to be family disputes - underline the urgency of making the development of social skills a priority in Puerto Rico.

All institutions - government, schools, churches, political parties, and workplaces - should contribute to conflict resolution, with respect and empathy.

Although the motive for the killing of three people - allegedly by a family member - is under investigation, reports attribute the crime to a housing dispute.

We do not condone violent behavior. On the contrary, we stress the importance of thoroughly investigating this unfortunate incident to the utmost rigor of the rule of law.

We do point out, however, every person should learn from an early age to appreciate the value of human lives above ideas, physical traits, and possessions since that leads to respect for life.

Our society needs training in skills that should be basic to all citizens. Among the most fundamental ones, the island needs to cultivate active listening skills to learn, rather than seek to win. Because this allows us to understand the contexts behind each person´s thoughts and acts, as well as their talents and needs. Such an exercise would confirm that everyone shares emotions, such as sorrows and joys, and the search for well-being.

Our children should learn from an early age - along with the basic subjects - to handle emotions such as fear, pain, and courage, to learn about the creative power of dialogue and to develop skills for the harmonious resolution of conflicts. Ethical values such as responsibility, commitment, integrity, and empathy coming from every home, school and community strengthen social coexistence. Likewise, human rights and the importance of respecting them to enjoy a just and peaceful society should be encouraged.

However, sometimes too often from the political, government, religious or other sectors spheres - the lack of reasons and arguments is shielded behind intolerance, and those who think differently are rejected. They use power to repress, to close off opportunities for expression and participation in decision-making processes that affect minority groups, which, in the end, affect society as a whole. These practices lead to inequality, insecurity, corruption, impunity and the violation of rights. Respect for the full enjoyment of life cannot be an option; it is a moral imperative.

On the other hand, the unfortunate events in the Cielito neighborhood in Toa Alta also reveal other systemic problems that impose equal responsibilities on institutions. The problem of informality as a means of supplying basic needs, such as housing, and the lack of sensitive and adequate proposals by the State, are at the heart of this issue. The alleged murderer, aged 77, was the subject of an eviction order.

Situations in which houses are built, transferred or occupied without due processes can be seen throughout the island and represent obstacles in the response to emergencies such as Hurricane María and the January earthquakes. They represent a difficulty that causes, for example, thousands of families to remain under tarps after more than two years and almost 100 days away from a new hurricane season.

As in a vicious circle, dehumanization, and indifference to fundamental rights that institutions seem not always able to ensure, reflect a social deterioration that Puerto Rico does not deserve to allow.

We need and can aspire to overcome the culture of mere survival that stimulates insensitivity, that deprives and destroys to prevail over others, often the most vulnerable. Let us contribute, from each scenario and in each activity, to build a peaceful Puerto Rico with respect and equity.


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