Today, I'd like to tell you about my conversations about the recent news story about the parents of Tyler Clementi--the young man who committed suicide after his roommate illegally taped his sexual encounter with another young man. The parents were in the news because they had left the church they'd been members of because they could no longer tolerate the church's anti-gay views.
I commented originally that it was good that the parents took a stand against the kind of dogma that caused their son such misery and gave another young man the idea that it would be ok to publicly shame his roommate. My attempt to make a positive comment was in the distinct minority.
Many people were making angry comments indicating that it had taken the parents too long, that they should have never been in that church in the first place, that their son wouldn't be dead if they, and their church hadn't been such (fill in the blank with an unflattering name)s, and the like.
I picked out one of these comments, and used it to try to make a point--that directing hate and anger toward bigots was no better than the bigots' hatred and anger toward the original victim. And, the game was on. I was told it was "different," because those people are mean and evil and bigoted, and so on. I was told it was "justified" because those people cause suffering. I was told that I shouldn't make "excuses" for bigots like the Clementis and their church. Et cetera. I tried to use reason. I tried to cite examples of people who successfully and valiantly opposed bigotry and hatred while refraining from engaging in it. I'm not sure I changed the minds of the folks I was talking to, but I got some support here and there, and I think I did the right thing.
What I learned from it was this: people like hate when it's directed at their "enemies." They don't like it when it's directed at their "friends." They believe that hate is a good excuse to hate back. And they're (actually, we're) 100% wrong. Here's why.
First, anger is bad for you. People who are angry a lot may not produce sufficient acetylcholine, a hormone that helps your body combat the negative effects of adrenaline. Their nervous system overworks, leading to a weakened heart and stiffer arteries, and higher risk for liver and kidney damage, high cholesterol, depression and anxiety. In one study of almost 13,000 subjects, individuals with the highest levels of anger had twice the risk of coronary artery disease and three times the risk of heart attack as compared to the subjects with the lowest levels of anger. Frequent anger may be more dangerous than smoking and obesity as a factor that will contribute to early death. Not to mention that it makes a person really suck to be around.
Second, anger and hatred lead to more anger and hatred, ad infinitum. If you subscribe to the idea that it's ok to be angry with someone who is angry, the inevitable result is everyone getting angry. As a famous non-hater, Ghandi, once said, "An eye for an eye leaves everybody blind." Some anti-gay crusader says something hateful about gays. I respond with something hateful about his group or his church, or whatever. Someone says something hateful about "lib-tards" or some other "tard" that I am, and someone responds, and someone responds, and someone responds. When does it end? Having looked at the comment boards on news sites a lot lately, I can tell you when---Never.
Third, anger and hatred doesn't change the other guy's mind; in fact, it usually has the opposite effect. If you don't believe it, drive around any major city. There are streets named after one guy, Martin Luther King, Jr., who sought to stop racism without anger and hatred. See any named after Malcolm X? Quite the contrary, the anger of the Black Panthers is still used as a scare tactic to get white people all up in the grill of black people--forty years later.
So, tallying up; anger will kill you, it breeds more and more anger, both by and at you, and it's ineffective at making anything change. Sounds like a hell of a winner.
So, what's the alternative, if we don't get mad at the bigots and the haters? Well, here are three steps to becoming lovers and fighters for what we believe:
1) Love. Show love to the victims of the hate and anger. Support them not just in theory but in reality. Know a gay person, or a black person, or a muslim? Treat them with respect and value them as a human--not as gay or black or muslim. If the opportunity presents itself where it's not creepy, tell them you don't like what the haters are doing, and you'll stand by them if ever they need it. And mean it.
2) Love. As hard as it might be, we can try to love the hater as well. We can tell them we disagree with them, that they're wrong, that their hate isn't welcome around us. But we can do it with calm respect, without name-calling, without raised voices or capital letters or group branding (all you ____s are a bunch of ____). We can do it with the understanding that while we might not suffer from their particular brand of hate, we're all prone to it on some issue, sometime--so that anything we call them might be applied to us as well. And then we can send them on their way, not with thoughts of anger, but with hope that they may someday find a better way.
3) Love. Love yourself enough to not tear yourself to pieces angrily tilting at the windmills of hate. Ask whether you have control over any aspect of the situation, and if you do--try step 1 or 2, or both. Then let it go. Truly, and quickly, before it has the potential to raise your ire or your blood pressure for another minute.
Not an easy task, I'll admit. Even having it in the front of my mind for a couple of days now, the backspace key on my computer is getting a workout, as I self-censor my internal non-hater into full bloom. But you know what? Slowly, ever so slowly, it's working--no minor miracle for someone like me who is known for nothing so much as a quick temper and a terrier-like tenacity to "win" an argument.
I'll leave you with two more quotes, both from myself, that abruptly ended my adversaries' angry comments to me in the last couple of days, and that are, for me, uncharacteristically short and lucid:
You can't make the world a less hateful place by hating the people who hate.
Anger is the nuclear weapon in our emotional arsenal. It may take out the enemy, but it poisons the whole world in the process.