In the news recently, we’ve heard much about the healthcare debate. And the protests. This last week, protestors reportedly shouted the “n” word at Representatives John Lewis (D-Ga.) and Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), spit upon Rep. Cleaver, and called Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) the “f” word. The actions of these protestors has enraged many Americans. It is not uncommon for emotions and energy to build among large groups of people, causing actions to get out of hand–a sort of mob mentality. You see it at concerts, sports games, and yes, protests. And while our country protects our speech–even words offensive to others–using slurs rarely, if ever, achieves any utilitarian result. As we move forward from these events (or ones like them ), here are a few things to keep in mind that I believe would drive our attitudes to something productive and positive:
1. Pissing people off is a privilege we should treasure without taking advantage of it
We have the privilege in our country to voice our beliefs freely. And while the opinions of others may make our skin crawl, reacting against them in an equally negative way will not sway our opponent from their perspectives. Disagree, yes. State our opinion, yes. But retaliate? No. As hard as it may be, we should appreciate the ability to fervently disagree with one another–and we should try to have skin that is thick enough to withstand it. Maybe I watch too much Law & Order, but if we keep prosecuting people for their words (like the guy who was convicted of degrading his ex-mother-in-law’s dignity by calling her a few swear words–I swear it’s true), we could find our constitutional right to free speech slowly eroded by court rulings and reactive laws. Now, I’m NOT endorsing that type of hateful talk the protestors uttered. Trust me. I’m on the skin-crawling, sick-to-my-stomach side of this issue. But, I doubt calling them names make a difference. We must act constructively in this situation and realize that people say mean, awful things in charged situations and make something positive/productive out of it. Which brings me to the next point.
2. For each negative action, there is a WAY better positive reaction
This is an opportunity. For debate and for dialogue. And for change. It seems that in politics and in life, the newer trend is for people to get their voice heard by being the loudest (and possibly most obnoxious or extreme) voice in the room. And typically those voices don’t care about listening to others. They just wanna be heard and obeyed. Imagine how much farther we could get in our legislature, in our homes, in our jobs, and in our schools if we had a conversation. Disagree. Debate. But let’s talk. Get excited, be assertive. But listen. Let’s not yell or close ourselves off to new ideas or solutions. Don’t allow our emotions to overrun us so much that we forget how to give consideration, to concede on a few neutral points. Even agree to disagree. Why not? Let’s talk about controversial issues at home, with our friends, with acquaintances. Let our children hear the healthy debate, the calm and spirited consideration of all the points. Then our children can learn how to make a well-educated decision and they can learn to be diplomatic rather than reactive. And they can have a better future because of it. Discussing our views in this way is a sign of maturity, confidence and intelligence. And in acting as such, we are all role models to each other. Couldn’t we all use some positive examples? I know I could.
3. Take the higher road, even if you’re mad and you’re afraid of heights
This is a time for many to be upset, enraged, wounded and offended. The words and actions of those individuals opened many wounds in our collective psyche. Now, or in the future, all of us will have a myriad of experiences as equally upsetting. We must remember: don’t retaliate. Educate. Don’t respond in kind. Acknowledge the pain, and then decide what positive actions will yield greater, more far-reaching results than that offensive experience. The legislators that were victims of the hateful speech this week did not press charges (as far as I know); they moved on. They’ve seen worse, heard worse. And they had more important things to do.
We can keep a watchful eye on intolerance and hate, but acting positively will do well to keep our society moving forward to a more tolerant, equal place.
And the best way to get back at the mean, nasty, prejudiced, racist, biased, sexist (and so on) people in our lives? NICE their freaking faces off. Be so kind, so good, so fair and compassionate that it makes them ill!
So go! Be nice. Be positive. Live and let live. Respond to negativity constructively! You’ll make ’em sick. You’ll make me proud. You’ll make a real difference.