With immobilizing pain, I laid on the couch enduring a notorious case of chicken pox. I received its wrath for a full week. Like an Old Testament leper, I moped feebly around my house waiting for the anguish to pass. Our family didn’t subscribe to a cable service, so my agony increased when I realized the option for TV watching was either soap operas or the CBS coverage of a congressional hearing.
Congress was in session to confirm a Supreme Court justice. I vaguely understood the significance of what that meant, so I decided to watch. It was like a Netflix series on boredom. Like a prisoner blankly staring through a small concrete window, I waited. I faded in and out of sleep as the monotonous droning of finely dressed politicians went on and on. Then something crazy happened. Midway through the week, the discussion went from rated G to R. A witness leveled charges of sexual misconduct against the nominee. Every news broadcast buzzed with glee as reporters caustically interjected their critiques. I wearily flipped through channels only to hear the same assaulting reports over and over.
Memories of that week surfaced as I watched a few hours of the recent confirmation hearing of Judge Kavanaugh. However, there was a distinct difference. The blade of political divisiveness was even more pronounced. From angry senators to outbursts of activists, the circus went on for days. At times, I thought I was watching an over-dramatized episode of Judge Judy. It seems propaganda machines of “fake news,” on both sides, fuel the fires of strife. From activists paid to disrupt court proceedings to zealously opinionated journalists, so many contributed to the confusion.
Can we as a nation heal from the wounds of our failures while on a diet of political contention? How should we respond to haters? How are we as the followers of Jesus to respond to the national epidemic of hate and tension? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Turn off the source of hate speech. Turn off the news when it pits you emotionally against those who believe differently. I know many of us desire to stay informed and that’s ok. But when broadcasts only reinforce your disdain for others, you are not listening to news; you’re feeding on propaganda. When you feel an inner rage rising in you, it’s time to stop. The media is playing you. A knee-jerk response of anger is precisely what they hope to create.
2. Stop labeling people. When you label pro-choice advocates as “murderers,” or conservatives as “Bible-thumpers,” you are minimizing their humanity. Yes, you can have a differing opinion, but you cannot default to treating people as lesser. When you give respect, especially in how you identify others, you can see issues for what they are. When you label people, it subtly empowers your hatred. History shows us that in every genocide, the strong began their annihilation of the weak by labeling them with a derogatory description.
3. Choose to be kind, especially to those who aren’t. We all have seen it – the man in front of you at the checkout line, the young person with an attitude of entitlement. Their behaviors urge you to respond rudely, but that’s when your response counts the most. Put on your understanding smile and be kind to them. When you see someone overwhelmed with their work or angry with their last customer, take a moment and give them a positive interaction. As the old proverb says, “a soft answer turns away anger.”
4. Ask questions to help your friends identify the root of their anger. Sometimes people simply need to talk out their frustration. I was chatting with a friend the other day that was getting worked up about his inability to get a better job. In his anger, he blamed his unemployment on a minority group. “The Chinese are stealing all our jobs,” he said. When he finished, I asked him, “How many Chinese people do you know?” “None,” he responded. “Have you ever talked with a Chinese person who wanted a job,” I questioned. “No.” “Then how do you know they want your job?” “Well, that‘s what I heard on the radio,” he admitted. The hostility in our discussion cooled as he realized that he had blindly believed in someone else’s hatred. If we take the time to listen to people’s frustration, we can often interject a few eye-opening questions. This may help them see things in a little different light.
I know many more suggestions that can be added to this list. Each step toward healing our nation must begin with daily choices to love people well. As you go about today, seek to make peace in the lives of those who don’t have much of it. This is how you can effectively respond to those who exude hate. Be the hope you want to see.