In my last post, Step 3, I suggested you try stepping into the shoes of those who are different than you, those who you disagree with, to truly and honestly attempt to figure out exactly what it is that guides their principles and opinions and leads them to the decisions they make. To really attempt to figure out what informs their alliances and actions.
I’ve focused a lot on the political aspects of this discussion, but I honestly believe we need to do this for every one of our interactions with people we feel are “different” than us. That we need to understand what makes up those differences. That we need to see each other as equals, but with different life experiences.
Now you’ve gone through the first three steps and arrived at the moment where you know what informs the decisions of others, you’ve honestly reflected on the information you’ve received. You really truly feel like you understand why they do the things they do.
Step Four is making an actual effort to separate the good from the bad. To see people for who they are, and to apply your intolerance to those who truly deserve it. The people who abuse others. Those who create hate. Pain. Suffering. The power hungry.
You may see one group as being evil, or dumb, or whatever, but more than likely, the majority of the people who are part of it, are unknowingly a part of an evil, dumb or whatever group. In the case of politics, those folks on the ground level, your friends and neighbors, are probably not evil, probably not stupid, probably not Nazis or thieves. They are probably just people who have become convinced for one reason or another, that their “team” is the good one and the other is the evil one.
Similarly, just because someone’s black, doesn’t mean that they’re going to mug you in the street.
Now, I know there’s a danger to be had creating correlations between racist stereotyping and political stereotyping. Obviously the people in one of those groups can’t really help that they are part of the group their in. They don’t make a conscious decision. But both situations rely on one thing, defining the actions of a group based on the actions of some within that group.
You see, these steps, all four of them, are all about one thing: redirecting your intolerance toward the appropriate parties. Don’t hate Muslims, hate the people who are crashing their planes into our buildings.
Just like you shouldn’t hate all Christians because some of them blow up abortion clinics.
We get mad at our friends and neighbors for being “ignorant”. For not knowing how to express themselves correctly with regards to those of other races, creeds or whatever. But what we should be doing with them is having helpful conversations where we can express to them how those words or actions may appear to others.
Now, to make an argument for ignorance here…
I used to fly a Confederate flag.
Well, fly’s not really the appropriate term. I didn’t have a flag pole or anything. I hung it up on the wall of my dorm room. At the same time, I was also one who believed that the flag should stay on the top of the Capitol building in South Carolina. I would have argued the case with you quite readily for it to stay.
That alone would make me appear to be a racist. If I were running for President today, and a picture of me standing in front of that flag were to surface, it would define a great portion of the discussion for many. There are those who sport the infamous rebel flag who have racist ideologies.
I was not one of them (And still am not, for the matter of record).
In that same hypothetical Presidential bid, here is the message that only my supporters would (unfortunately) hear in response. The real, completely honest, no lies here reason why I had (and displayed) that flag.
I grew up in South Carolina. I bought the flag when I moved to Wisconsin for school. For me, at the time, it was a symbol of where I came from. And although I knew the Civil War was a war at which slavery was a key debate topic, it also stood, in my mind, for a battle quite similar to the Revolutionary War. The South had felt like their voice wasn’t being heard. They were losing representation of their ideas in the federal government (although, again, generally focused around the slavery topic). They felt they were being oppressed. That they were being taken advantage of. That they no longer mattered to the rest of the country.
To me, at the time, The Confederate Flag stood as a symbol of standing up for yourself in the face of oppression.
The problem, of course, in this very real, completely 100% true scenario (outside of the Presidential bid metaphor) is that I never took the time to actually consider what message this flag might send to others.
The flag didn’t last long. It maybe made it a year before I tucked it away into hiding, feeling embarrassed that I could have proudly stood behind a banner which, to many, appeared as a symbol of oppression.
The Civil War was such a nuanced conflict in my mind, but for so many others, it was simply a battle for White Supremacy.
I was ignorant.
But because I had so much extra knowledge behind it, since I was considering all the conflicts which led up to the Civil War, I couldn’t recognize it. I was putting a great deal of knowledge behind my decision to fly the flag, how could I possibly have been the one who was being ignorant?
The answer, of course, is because I didn’t stop to recognize how others might perceive my display. Just because I knew what I knew, and stood behind it for my own principles, didn’t mean that anyone else in the entire world had that same thought when they saw that flag.
It’s the same reason the swastika is not what we use for our peace sign today, even though it has thousands of years as a symbol for peace, and only a few decades as a symbol for hate.
The label of ignorance gets tossed around so much today, but with so much hate placed behind it. Yet, the problem is, that by the very definition of the word ignorance, these people don’t know what you think they should know. Or at the very least, don’t have the same perception you have regarding the topic.
Which is why we need to get out there and talk to our fellow men and women. And do so honestly, diplomatically, and with a true attempt to be understanding. Because when it comes down to it, they probably don’t realize that what they’re doing is hurting anyone.
And once you’ve cut out the ignorant. Those who act not out of malicious intent, but simply due to a different worldview. You can begin to focus on those who deserve your intolerance.
Those who would manipulate a country through fear in order to gain power. Those who lead others to hate. Those who oppress.
There are many in this country to be intolerant of. We need to find them. Seek them out. Stop them.
For those who oppress us, abuse us, or just plain discriminate against us, we must first let them know they are doing so. After we’ve learned where they are coming from, it is our responsibility to help them understand the part of the equation they don’t know. To them, it might be the equivalent of calling you Mr. instead of Mrs., in that, it was an honest mistake based on the information they had at the time.
But if that doesn’t work. If they are willfully refusing to recognize how they have done these things. This is when intolerance may be required.
But there’s one more piece required in identifying how to properly move forward with intolerance:
We need to stop villainizing groups, and begin villainizing people. By calling all Republicans are bigots, you, yourself, are being bigoted. If you think all Democrats are lazy, entitled millennial, you are being bigoted.
(Quick side note: I realize it’s easy to look at the above statements and declare that you realize there are exceptions to the “rule”. I’m saying, toss out the “rule”. Mass generalizations are dangerous.)
Don’t be bigoted. Be informed. And inform your fellow man.
I’m going to end this series with another quote. And just because I like to stir things up, I’m going to use a book which tends to sit in a very uncomfortable spot right in the middle of many of these debates….The Bible.
“If you sin without knowing what you are doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely.” – Romans 2:12,
If God, the entity known for destroying entire cities based on their actions, can give ignorance a bit of a pass, then surely we can.
Right now, we, not only the American people, but the people of the planet Earth, need to change the conversation. By that, I mean we need to actually start having A conversation. We must use compassion, not hate. We must work to inform our friends and neighbors about the ideologies we hold dear which they disagree with, and do so with love, not with the need to win. Not with the need to “correct” them. But with compassion.
It’s time for us, as the American people, to stop thinking about each other in terms of groups. We need to remove the labels. We must begin thinking about each other as brothers and sisters in this life.
And save the hate, the intolerance, for those who truly deserve it. Those who actively seek to hurt their fellow man, whether it’s through actions, words, legislation or other.
These steps, all of them, are incredibly personal. They are steps which will change drastically depending on who follows them. As such, the steps you take next will also be different for each person.
But the next steps are yours. To work to actively seek to better our world. To increase the love and cut out the hate (at least against those who may not be deserving).
And…although I’m reluctant to say it…to condemn people like Trump based on his actual actions, not purely because of what we fear he could be. He IS our President now…or will be come January. There’s very little we can do about that. Starting out already by saying how he’s ruining our country could have a very terrible side effect.
Is Trump going to be a terrible President? Only time will truly tell. He’s not the kind of guy I want in office, but I can honestly say that I can’t predict what his administration will do to this country.
The problem is that by attacking those who voted for him today, you’re turning them away from hearing you about the things that need to be heard.
You’re turning them away from having a conversation about why you are hurting because he has been elected.
You’re turning them away from hearing you should he begin doing truly terrible things like opening up internment camps for Muslims (which, for the record, although it has been discussed by those in Trump’s administration, is not something Trump has publicly declared as an intention).
Trump’s election was a painful one for many. He is a man who uses hate and fear to motivate his followers, and there have definitely been some who have used his platform of hate and fear to feel more empowered to act on their malicious ideologies. The image of this man as a misogynistic bigot is one that caused many to fear that their own voice won’t be heard.
These are worthwhile fears. America, although the land of the free, has a long history of oppressing minorities. Of causing groups to feel like they no longer have a voice.
This is why we need a conversation. To talk about these issues instead of yelling them at the top of our lungs. So we can express our fears. So people can hear them.
And then we stand up for our common man. Those who are being oppressed. Those who are being hurt. Those who feel like they have lost their voice. And if we’ve been having these conversations with our friends and family and neighbors, maybe, just maybe, they’ll join our side when we stand up for the things which truly matter.
We the people are strong. Let’s focus on making US stronger so that we can stand against THEM together.
Martin Luther King Jr. once declared the danger of ignorance. And he wasn’t wrong. But the responsibility is on those who aren’t ignorant to inform the ones who are. More than likely, that’s you.