02 February 2017

When hate has hit home, how do we respond?

I have not written a blog entry for a long time, as my mind and heart have been constantly troubled and baffled by the events of past months. Two weeks ago, I left Facebook due to the influx of negative and unproductive posting coming from both “sides” that seem ever at odds over every real and important issue plaguing our country and government in the wake of an election that wreaked havoc on decency and respect – from both candidates. This post is not, however, to discuss or share my thoughts on President Trump and why he is or is not going to do “good” for this country. After all, 4 years lie ahead before that declaration can be truly made. I deeply hope and have been praying that the type of decisions his rhetoric throughout the campaign and immediately following his elections seemed to point to are tempered by time, thought, the other individuals now working with him (or against him, depending on their stance, but all supposedly "for country"), and last, but not least, the people who are using their voices and their presence to show which issues matter to them. But these issues are not what I want this post to focus on.

Today I am writing because a colleague and friend has been the direct target of hate speech and threats. Two weeks ago tomorrow, peaceful protests were held in response to the presence of an extremist, openly racist and homophobe speaker on the campus where I work. The president of the university stated that this individual was allowed to come (despite rampant threats from both sides, and a history of violence following or directly related to his speeches) due to the fact that our campus allows free speech. At the time, I thought it was logical, and perhaps it should stand as such. What is unfortunate is that this individual’s speeches, given under the guise of “free speech”, have almost without exception incited some form of hate speech or violence on specific individuals whose personal information and identity was stalked and shared through social media or by being physically followed. This kind of behavior is unacceptable. The kind of disrespect and violence associated with the individual who is indirectly responsible for the harm threatened to my colleague has no business in a country apparently trying to get back to a place of bipartisan dialogue that at least attempts to hear out the other side before stating their point of view. 

On the other hand, one might say why can't both sides just shut up and deal with it. Well, because in situations like this, where one party is clearly already at a disadvantage because they are a minority by race, sex, or literal number, both sides are not equal from the start at all. "Shut up and deal with it" should imply that both sides are at an equal ad- or disadvantage, have shared their views on whatever topic is in question, and continue to disagree with no clear exit. In this case, sure, shut up and agree to disagree. But my colleague's case is in no way this latter type of scenario. He was stalked in person and online and made to feel as though he couldn't come to teach his own class without worrying for his safety. This isn't free speech in action, but hate speech and just plain hate.  

My friend is one of the most vibrant, caring, and promising colleagues that I have the pleasure of knowing. He is an exceptional teacher, and has taught multiple foreign language courses and literature classes. He tirelessly seeks to provide safe spaces for productive discussions about major issues, political and social. His laugh is infectious, and he loves deeply. I have an unending admiration for his work ethic and the fact that he never seems to know enough about a given subject – sometimes his tenaciousness is even a bit outlandish, but that is what makes him himself. I have never, ever, known him to shy away from being himself, and he ever encourages those around him to do the same while respecting the rich variety of beliefs and realities with which we are all surrounded in this wild era in history. He and I wouldn't agree on everything, but he is someone I would debate hot issues with, because I know he would have checked his facts and be seeking the "best good" in that discussion. The kind of atmosphere he seeks to create wherever he goes is one that I think we can all learn from and our country desperately needs. 

Speak out and reach out. Be kind. Find something positive to focus on, even if just for a few minutes a day. The hate is either exhausting or like a drug - the former gets old and we more easily let go of it, while the latter is addictive and poisonous. Let us choose fatigue of hate so that it can give way to love. Because LOVE WINS EVERY TIME. And if others are to hear and believe this, it starts with us. Michael Jackson was right: it's the man in the mirror that we need to start with, and it needs to happen today!

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