I noticed the other day that an acquaintance had a rather direct message on his social-networking Web page: he hates Democrats and feels that our government needs to do more to kill “Arab terrorists.” It was a stark declaration that left me wondering just how deep his emotions run.
But it is to be expected, I guess, in what is shaping up to be an intensely personal political season in the United States. Every day, the newspapers paint a story of two parties pitted against each other in what seems to be a death match. At one point or another, both sides have intentionally stoked ugly emotions tied to distrust between races. It seems as if people on the extreme edges of each party will go to any means to ensure their candidate/ideals/philosophies/agendas win the day.
OK, so maybe that’s just what comes with a national political race? But what about the happenings in California, where the Supreme Court just reached a landmark decision on marriage equality. Once again, the venom spills out into the press. Even in tiny, seemingly insignificant matters, there are often no holds barred: the pastor of a church in my neighborhood told his parishioners a few years ago that men frequenting a proposed bar down the street would lie in wait early Sunday mornings, ready to molest the children of the churchgoers and “convert” the young people to homosexuality, all in an effort to use ignorance and hate to rally public opinion to his cause.
What drives people to such lengths? Are we becoming such a tolerant society that the only way to sway the heart and mind of John Q. Public is to scare the hell out of him? Or is it that these tactics have proven to be incredibly effective, meaning that they must become increasingly more caustic in order to trump the other side’s fear-mongering?
I’m not throwing stones from a glass house, as I am just as guilty. I stood in a public meeting and said some pretty nasty things a couple years back after a neighborhood commissioner told a group of 50 or so people in the same meeting that “fags had taken over the neighborhood.” His provocative words provoked an equally provocative reaction.
The solution, I believe, is to take the oft-cited advice of my boss: stop, take a moment, and breathe. Pause and reflect. Ask yourself, how will it benefit the issue if I compound and magnify the nastiness by what is, in effect, perpetuating it with a similarly offensive statement?
Leaders like King, Gandhi and Jesus took the same approach. And it worked.