Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How Do You Stop Hate?

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.” – President Barak Obama, 12/16/12

No matter your political, racial, or religious beliefs I don’t think there’s an American out there who doesn’t agree with this statement with all their heart. After the hate fueled tragedies and horrific violence that has plagued this nation for the last decade, no person can argue that change needs to happen and it needs to happen now. As a people, we can no longer allow ourselves to foster a society where the mindless deaths of others is the only outlet for the rage of our broken, and the infamy of mass destruction the only recourse for our unrecognized.

As I write this, twenty-eight families bury their hopes for the future alongside the shattered bodies of their children, wives, and mothers in Newtown Connecticut. The country is heartbroken, outraged, horrified, and confounded by a tragedy of such epic scope. We must do something to prevent such insanity from happening ever again. On that we all agree. The problem we face is in the “how” of the thing. How do we prevent the insane from attacking the innocent? How do we recognize, and treat, the mentally ill so they never approach this level of madness? How do we ensure that all innocent lives are protected so they have a chance to develop to their fullest potential? How do we keep tools of destruction from the hands of people who want to kill?

How do you stop hate?

Perhaps the answer lies in the question itself. All around me, I hear people discussing the need for change and each of us has our own answers:

We need tighter gun control . . . No, no, that’s ridiculous; we need more guns so everyone is armed to prevent these tragedies.

We need to bring prayer back to schools so children learn about God . . . Absolutely not! We need to stop allowing religions to brainwash our children to hate anyone who doesn’t believe what they do.
Outlaw homosexuality: it leads to immorality . . . Tolerance toward others is the way to fight hate like this, you moron!

It’s all just a power grab by the leftist media who use tragedies like this to scare us into line . . . Are you a complete idiot? Anyone can see it’s the Republican nut-jobs catering to their NRA cronies who cause this stuff!

You allow doctors to murder babies, why are you surprised when someone else does it, baby-killer . . . Fascist morons like you, who want to control even what people can do with their own bodies are the ones who cause this crap!

Are you seeing the problem? We can’t stop the hatred because all our answers are based in hate. We have allowed ourselves to become a nation of single issue orientation. Each of us focuses on our own set of political, racial, sexual, religious and moral views to the exclusion of all other ideas. Our personal beliefs are inherently right, so everyone else is –by definition- wrong. That is the true root of hate: the belief that other views, and the people who hold them, are inferior. We stand and shake our fists in the air, wildly declaiming the absolute righteousness of our views and proudly stating our willingness to die, even to kill, to defend those views and we sit in bafflement when our children act upon the lessons of hate that we so carefully taught them. Do we need to change our nation? Do you truly believe that? If you do, then I suggest you start by looking closely in a mirror.

We have developed a culture of acceptable rage and institutionalized hatred in modern America. From the highest elected officials in the land, down through our religious and civic leaders, right to the guy picking up your trash. In America, it’s not only alright to hate the people who disagree with you, it’s strongly encouraged. If you don’t believe that, all you need do is turn on your television. Our elected representatives scream lies and vitriol about their counterparts across the aisle, with no pretense of logic or respect, and we deem it “political process.” We follow those tirades up with countless hours of punditry, where supporters from both sides decry the idiocy, corruptness, and inherent vileness of those who disagree with them and we call it “news.” Preachers stand upon their pulpit and call for their followers to disenfranchise, devalue, and despise those who don’t share their beliefs and we call it “religion.” Neighbors rail about the people moving onto the block who lower property values because they have darker skin, or wear funny towels on their heads, and we call this “freedom of speech.” We teach our children to hate and want to crush their opponents on ball fields and we call it “competition.” If you’re Pro-Life, it’s acceptable to spit on pregnant teenagers and call them murderer. If you’re Pro-Choice, it’s alright to call anyone who opposes abortion an inbred moron. Jews can hate Arabs, who can hate Christians, who can hate Gays, who can hate Republicans, who can hate Democrats, and on and on in an endless cycle.

Hate, rage, and violence grow all around us because we embrace it in our daily lives. We nourish it at our breast and share it with our children, expounding on its virtues and demanding they support it in turn or suffer –-at best-- our derision. At worst, children who fail to take up their parents sacred hatreds are outcast, shunned, and hated in turn by their own. Hate exists all around us in the small things we do in our daily lives. When we flip the bird at the guy driving too slow in the fast lane, or when watch those sad families on reality TV so we can mock them and feel better about ourselves. Hate is there when we grouse about the lazy bastards on welfare, and in the scowl on our face when we see that Hispanic guy holding hands with that pretty white girl. It’s what we’re teaching our children when we tell them not to play with that kid who has too many syllables in his name and when we call the athlete who drops the ball on the TV a: “worthless piece of crap!” We bathe ourselves, and our families, in hatred and see our attitudes as strong willed and independent representations of the American Spirit.

We need to stop.

When I was a child, my father had a favorite quote from Voltaire: “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.” That has always seemed the American ideal to me. I always saw it as a defense for freedom of speech but now I begin to see it as a guide sign on the road out of this confusing jungle of anger and violence we’re struggling through. It is alright to disagree with others, even argue with them vehemently if your beliefs are strong enough. It is not alright to hate them for disagreeing with you. It is not acceptable to belittle, berate, and mock those who hold a differing viewpoint. As Americans, we are supposed to support the beliefs of others, even when they disagree with our own. We were built as a nation of people, first and foremost. An assembly of individuals who pledged to each other: “. . . our lives, our fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” We must first hold to the belief that we are one people, one nation, one culture made up of many parts and that each part must be held in respect by all others.

We can argue about the myriad laws that need to be passed and the cultural morals that need to be revisited, and on and on, in order to prevent tragedies like Newtown, Columbine, and Colorado but no legislation will have an effect if we don’t change our underlying thought processes as a nation. We can’t change as a nation until we change within our local communities, we can’t change a community until we change the families that make it up, and the only way to change your family is by changing yourself. Practice tolerance, not necessarily of other people’s views, but always show tolerance toward other people. When someone says something you oppose, tell your child you disagree and tell them why. Don’t call them a brain-dead moron who is ruining our country and will burn in hell for their stupidity. Try looking for the positive side of opposing viewpoints; understand that most people are trying to accomplish good things even if you think they’re wrong in their approach. Do you oppose gay marriage? That’s fine, but you need to realize that the people who support it aren’t immoral fiends out to destroy our nation; they’re just people who think everyone has the right to be with the one they love. Are Pro-Life? That’s ok too, but you need to realize the people protesting abortions aren’t religious freaks trying to impose their morals on others; they’re people who are trying to save what they see as innocent lives.

I’m not trying to discuss what’s wrong or what’s right, we all get to decide that for ourselves. What I’m saying is that as long as we wallow in the cultural cesspool of hate and intolerance that we’ve built around ourselves, we can never have the change we so desperately need. We need to step out of that pool ourselves, then turn and offer a hand up to the folks still behind us. If, as a nation, we can support debate without anger, we can make progress. If we can tolerate difference without derision, we have a chance. If we can turn from our fascination with the tawdry, the infamous, and the deification of vehemence, then maybe we can eliminate these tragedies all together.

That, my dear countrymen, is something worth fighting for. If you can support these simple ideas, please pass this along to others. Together, we can change the world . . . that is what I believe.

James A. Coppinger