Monday, October 2, 2017

Making It Better Monday: Overcoming hatred with communication

Each time that I hear of a tragic event where innocent people have had their lives cut short, it breaks my heart.  We do not know yet why this person targeted the music festival in Las Vegas, but all too often these mass shootings are done because the killer hated something about the group he was targeting.  In many cases, there is also an element of mental illness that also needs to be addressed, but that is a post for another time.  I want to talk about how we can overcome hate, both hatred, or even just dislike, within our own hearts and hatred, that others have towards us, for whatever reason.

The best way to warm your heart towards someone is to simply get to know them.  Learn what makes them so different from you and why they do the things that you either dislike or just don't understand.  I know when it comes to political or religious differences, often, both sides feel as though they are supporting/doing the best thing they can.  Very loosely speaking, Democrats feel as though no one should ever suffer poverty, a very noble thought.  Again, speaking loosely, Republicans feel that everyone should have the dignity of providing for themselves and not relying on the government to support them.  Republicans do not want the poor to suffer and Democrats do not want the poor to feel as though they have little or no dignity, but it is so often portrayed in extremes that we find Republicans hating Democrats and vice-versa.  If people who disagreed could just come together and listen to each other, they would see that they really want the same things and they just might be able to find a way that best suits everyone. Instead, we have a society that only hears the disagreements and people who refuse to try to see things from someone else's point of view.  The next time you hear or read someone saying something you disagree with, rather than immediately shoot back about how they are wrong, I challenge you to create a friendly dialog to find out why they feel the way they do.  If they are open to it, explain your side as well, but be sure the tone stays friendly and civil.  If it starts to get too heated, there is nothing wrong with walking away.  I recently watched a Ted talk, by Theo E. J. Wilson, a black man who went undercover in an alt-Right group.  I loved hearing how his eyes were opened to why some of them feel the way they do.  His experience covers both race and political differences.  I encourage you to listen to his talk, no matter what side you find yourself on, as I am certain it will help soften your heart a bit.

I also want to warn about trusting the media to fairly portray any group.  All too often, they portray people as a stereotype, often one that has been perpetrated and fed by the media.  Currently, if one were to develop an opinion about people based on how the media portrays them this is what they would believe:  all cops are bad and go around killing innocent people and harassing people of color; all white people are racist; all black people, especially black men, are criminals; all Hispanics are Mexican and must be here illegally; all gay people are flamboyant and want to watch the world burn; all Christians hate gay people and anyone else who does not fit their definition of Christian; all Muslims are terrorists just waiting to kill all Americans and take over the country; and so on and so on.  There are people who fit each of those categories that live in America, but most of the people I know, which includes blacks, whites, Asians, Hispanics (from all Hispanic countries), gay, straight, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, agnostic, police officers, and more, they do not fit into those stereotypes at all.

Another way to get to know people that are different than you, is to serve them and/or to serve alongside them.  Maybe you do not want to discuss why you disagree with someone.  That should not prevent you from getting to know them as a person and a great way to do that is to serve them or even serve alongside them.  When you are focused on helping others, the stereotypes don't really seem to matter.  This can be best seen in the photos of people being rescued after the hurricanes and flooding that have recently occurred.  No one was refusing help due to the race, occupation, gender, or religion of their rescuer.  Rescuers were not asking people their sexual preference before offering aid.  People were just being people and helping each other.  Hopefully, you will not have to serve in the capacity of a rescuer, but there are many other ways to serve those who are, or who believe, different than you.  Volunteer at a soup kitchen, participate in a fundraising race by handing out water to runners, help refurbish homes for the poor or refuges.  Whatever you choose, try to put yourself in an area where you are working with or for those who you want to better understand.  It's easy to serve within our own church when we are serving others who believe as we do and often look like we do, but you will grow so much more by also serving in a different church with those who are not like you.

When we get to know people that are on opposite ends of the spectrum from us, big changes can occur.  A friend of mine shared a video today on Facebook, from ABC News, which tells the story of a Neo-Nazi who had a major change of heart after his black parole officer came into his life.  What started as a legal commitment, turned into a beautiful friendship, and a truly changed man.  It is examples like theirs that give me hope for the rest of us.

My heart goes out to all of those who were killed, injured, or experienced firsthand the terror of last night.  I have them, their loved ones, and the first responders in my prayers, along with the shooter's family.  Overcoming hate may not have been able to stop what happened in Las Vegas, but I firmly believe it would have stopped several other mass shootings, and many single killings, in recent years, and we need to start somewhere.

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