To my friends.
I've been ignorant and hurtful. I've been a lot of the things I've been accused of being. I've been unkind, intolerant and unforgiving. I've been a person who I would not want as a friend. I’ve hurt people who offered me friendship and as someone who was bullied, I know the harm I've done.
I'm an adult now.
I didn't become an adult when I reached a certain age or took on a certain amount of responsibility. I became an adult the day I realized that my words and actions have a profound affect on the people around me. I became an adult the day I knew I needed to choose peace over fear and violence. I made a lot of mistakes on the road to adulthood and yes sometimes I still act like a child, but I know the difference now and I make an effort to be better. America is still a child. America is still run by children.
We have weaponized our words and put them in the hands of children and now the playground is a crime scene and everyone is a witness but no one seems to know what happened. In private we all know what happened and we’re rightfully too ashamed to own our part. We sit in judgment of each other, handing out labels and insults. We’ve decided those who don’t agree with us must be ignorant or lack virtue. We’ve normalized generalization and embraced ideological stereotypes. We have forgotten that we need each other. We have forgotten that there is enough to go around. We have forgotten to be patient. Saddest of all, we have forgotten to be kind.
We’re a nation of bullies forgetting that bullies create villains.
Everyone fears the man with his hand on the button, but we have forgotten to be wary of the person with their feet on the bully pulpit, with their hands on the keyboard, with a pen, a radio station, a blog, a TV show or youtube channel. They communicate and we agree without analyzing. They label and we repeat. Sexist, Sinner, Racist, Heathen, Misogynistic, Immoral, Xenophobic, Unprincipled, Homophobic, Amoral, Anti-American, Uneducated, Anti-Semitic, Elitist, Ignorant, Arrogant, Privileged -- these words are labels that used to mean something but are used with such frequency and with such unfiltered application they are losing their meaning; all of these terms exist to describe real things, real problems and issues that need to be addressed, and when we use them to apply to every slight and disagreement we devoid their meaning and reduce our words to name calling which gives the real offenders a place to hide. Why? Because if I accept that your favorite aunt is a racist simply because she is white, then when you call the KKK racist it doesn’t have the same impact. And when your neighbor is an immoral heathen simply because they are atheists, I’m not going to trust you when you ask for help against a real threat.
Every time we cry wolf the villagers are less likely to come to our aid but worse, every time we generalize and use a label there’s collateral damage and we risk turning an alley into an enemy.
It doesn’t matter who’s at fault, "fault" is a concept for children. It matters that we take responsibility -- each of us for our own transgressions. It matters that we stand up for each other and stop hurt when we see it happening. Hate and is crime and silence is its accomplice. There is wrong to be righted and evil to be fought, but if we apply evil and ignorance because they are the easiest answers to choose, and not because they are accurate descriptions, we strengthen real evil and propagate ignorance. We fight superstition with science and then propagate it with our politics and social shorthanding. We pray for peace and then make it impossible with our intolerance and finger wagging.
As complex as the problem seems the solution is simple. We have to be human first and we have seen everyone before us as human first. We can’t interact as labels and think we know each other. We can’t label ourselves and expect anyone to know us. Once we acknowledge our sins, accept our own shortcomings and understand that everyone is human having human experiences and making human mistakes, then we can focus on the evil that’s left because we’ll know who to fight and who our enemies really are.