Fighting fire with fire leaves world colder
Published: Monday, February 13, 2012
Updated: Monday, February 13, 2012 23:02
Hate is a strong word. I was in elementary school the first time someone said this to me after I said I hated vanilla ice cream. I was told that I should instead say that I don't like things, because a part of hating something means that we will never give it another chance ever again. But the lesson we all could use alongside being careful of what we hate is how to face hate and answer it without perpetuating it. I think the best example that we can use is one given by a young boy.
Huffington Post blogger, Columbia University faculty and founder of EqualShot Barbara Becker recently wrote about her eight-year-old son's answer to a swastika sprayed on a billboard in his neighborhood. He understood what it meant not only as a symbol of anti-Semitism, but as a sign that the person who did it hates him, even though he doesn't even know him. He covered it with a heart that reads, "Choose Peace." Of course, not every travesty can be covered up with construction paper and tape, but what Becker's son did is something that most people, including myself, often do not have the courage to do. He decided to put something good over it, even though at first he wanted to cover it up with black paint. The difference means little aesthetically, but it is still the difference between continuing to destroy something, or choosing to create something that, though small, is still something good that adds to the larger world.
We take in a lot of hate everyday, whether it is through discrimination, making value judgments of other people or feeling judged in turn. We swallow the bitterness, ignore it or react vocally in violence or through protest. When we do respond, we respond with a sense of righteous anger, but we never aim to heal. That is what we need to do if we want to actively change the many, often inbred, injustices we all face on a daily basis. We need to think of responding to hatred and acts of hatred and discrimination as a form of talk therapy. If we look to forgive first, then we can look at the real problem – which is often rooted in some form of education – and find a real way to solve it. But we need to engage in a communal, cultural conversation first.
If we could find the right way to talk about discrimination, then we could possibly find a way to breach the seemingly imminent threat of war between Israel and Iran; a war that will destroy anyone even tangentially involved because at its heart, it is a war fueled by generations of misunderstanding and indoctrinated hate. We could find a better way to address terrorist threats within this country, because we would not take people at face value alone in our evaluation of who is safe and who is not. We could end the political discourse of class warfare and engage in practical, real welfare instead. We could address the problems at the heart of gender and sexuality-based discrimination. But we need to find the right-sized paper heart to do so first. For the problems that are not scrawled in paint on a billboard, this means engaging in collective discourse on difficult, loaded topics while avoiding divisive rhetoric. Repeating rhetoric of any kind does not constitute education initiatives, and without education that changes the way we look at the world, together, we are facing a lot of bad news in the near future. Look at Greece, Syria, Egypt or even Israel and Iran. Look at the way the people of these countries are becoming little more than objects in a fight between out of touch politicians. Look at the amount of teen and child suicides in response to bullying in this country. We need to change something, because the usual methods are no longer helping anyone.
Answering wrong or hateful acts with anger, however righteous that anger may be, is not a productive solution. This is not about emulating Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr., and "turning the other cheek." This is about recognizing the limits of anger to build a positive solution to the many horrible things we all face in life. It is not an easy path – it is much easier to break things apart or black things out than to build something new and positive. But we will all be in a much better place if we can face our problems with understanding, and not hatred.