I’m always amazed and saddened when I look at things like Facebook, or a news broadcast and I see how much people seem to enjoy hating one another. The purpose of social media and communications in general has become the dissemination of lies and twisted interpretations of the truth. It’s not about exchanging thoughts and ideas anymore. It’s about bludgeoning someone with our own self righteousness. We keep hammering on someone else until we feel better.
The problem is we never feel better. We are so caught up in the shouting, name-calling and labeling that we don’t see the ricocheting, two-edged blade coming back at us. The scars we inflict on our perceived enemies are mirrors of the self-inflected wounds that we carry. We never heal. We never help anyone else heal. The pain we carry with us is blamed on others and so we retaliate, causing more pain. The vicious circle of hate multiplies.
This week, two things caused me to reflect this dark side of human behavior. One of the patients that I see regularly is a woman in her 80s from Cuba. Carmen and her family left their home during the rise of Fidel Castro and came to America to seek the freedom to live their lives as they chose. She is well educated, as was her husband. Her sons are all doctors. Her grandchildren are studying medicine or law at various schools around the country.
Carmen is confined to a bed or wheelchair most of the time. Her voice is not strong and so I have to listen very carefully when she speaks in her thick, beautiful Cuban accent. Many times Carmen has told me how fortunate we are to live in this country. She says it doesn’t matter who is President because we are free – much more so than in the homeland she left to come here.
The other day, though, she told me a story that frightened me. When Carmen arrived in America, she notedthe problems we were having as a country in dealing with racial issues. She looked at me, wonderingly, and said that she saw a door marked “For Whites Only” for the first time. “We never saw anything like that in Cuba,” she said. We spoke of the scars left on a people because of past injustices. Those scars are on all of us.
Later that evening, I turned on the TV and saw Elie Wiesel, writer, professor and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. Wiesel is also a survivor of the WWII concentration camps of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. As I looked at the photographs of the camps and the appalling images of the people who were sent there to be tortured and murdered, I felt the tears rise. How could human beings, created in the image of God, do these things to others also created in the image of God?
In 1993, I was in Germany. We were teaching conversational English to students in the former East Germany. One afternoon, our group visited the site of Buchenwald. Before we left, my host encouraged me to borrow a thick sweater. “It will be cold there,” she said. This was in mid-summer and the weather was mild, but I took it anyway. I’m glad I did. As I walked the ground strode upon by Nazis and saw the murder rooms and the ovens, I became chilled in a way I had never felt before. It was a chill that went deeper than the bone, all the way to the soul. It’s a chill that I have never quite shaken.
It’s not far from the concentration camps to the apartheid of South Africa and the race conflicts of America, symbolized by the “Whites Only” signs. It’s not far from any of these things to the words of hatred that we see and hear on a daily basis through TV, Facebook and other social media outlets. It’s not far from there to justifying imprisonment and even murder of those who don’t sound like us or think like us.
Can we really afford to allow this kind of hatred to rise again without saying anything? It’s stylish to hate online or in a broadcast. People do it all the time and we excuse it by saying, “They’re just making a point. They don’t really mean it.”
Of course they do. Those words that bully and inflame come from inside them. Words reflect thoughts and attitudes. Words eventually become deeds. We cannot let that happen.
Can’t we call out those who resort to the language of exclusivity and superiority? Not call out in the sense that we return hateful words for hateful words. Instead we must speak the truth that these words and attitudes are damaging to all of us, those who hear them and those who speak them. Instead of pointing out the worst in people, we must call out the best in them. We must help those who hate understand that they are capable of so much that is better and nobler.