In my travels and countless interactions, one common theme with people is a desire to be liked and accepted. If that seems too far out of reach for some, avoiding hate and personal attacks might be good enough. Today, there are more ways to connect and build, or in contrast, alienate and hurt people than there ever has been in history. In addition to than face to face interaction, social media now plays a significant role within society. Social media can provide a great avenue for sharing inspiration to a large and diverse audience. At the same time, it has become an avenue that piles on hate, put-downs, and ridicule…but, that hate always seems to be coming from other people, right?…or, if I said something hurtful, they deserved it.
In our daily lives, fear and psychological separation creates an environment where every day nice people can become vicious in ways that can be hard to imagine. As horrific news stories broadcast over television or outrageous acts are discussed in groups, I often hear, “how could someone do that? I would never do that.” Sometimes verbally, and other times just in my mind, I say, “never say never.”
Given just the right circumstances, the right environment, coupled with seemingly small choice after small choice leading us away from our heart and towards fear, low self-esteem, a feeling of isolation and group-think, anyone of us could be in a situation doing things we never thought we would.
A line from the movie American History X, stands out to me. It occurred right before a local Aryan Nation group stormed in to a neighborhood supermarket to harass those they thought were illegal immigrants, “We don’t know them. We don’t want to know them.” That illusion of separation is often the enemy at hand, versus the individual or group we choose to hate.
Countless wars throughout history have been centered around the differences in religion and in the name of God, despite the fact that the majority of the core beliefs in most religions carry with them more similarities than differences. Politics are another example. When party talking points are taken away from our conversations, most of those from opposite political persuasions will find much more in common than what divides them. As stated in Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting….put division between them.” The more we create false separation between ourselves and others, the more we are able to dehumanize and harm others.
The more we know our “enemy,” the more likely we are to uncover that the true enemy is something different…fear and group-think.
A discussion lead by two Vietnam veterans and a psychiatrist in an Honors course I attended at Weber State University still resides in me today. One veteran shared his experience of being drafted and deployed to a platoon with another young man on his way to the ministry, having been the preacher’s son and in all ways seeming god fearing, humble, and kind. Months into their deployment, the brutalities of war from both sides of the line had transformed this preacher’s son into the most vicious member of their platoon, engaging in mutilation and other atrocities that brought tears to this veteran’s eyes as he spoke to us in class.
“People are hard to hate close up. Move in”Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
The closer and more intimately you get to know someone or a particular group of people, the more you can relate to and understand them, even if you don’t fully agree with what they say.
“You can’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins.”
Still, sometimes it takes even more than just getting to know someone. It takes real experience to understand and even find empathy for others. Sometimes we have to experience real trials, similar to those we’ve judged, to truly understand. An example of truly demonstrating this type of understanding and empathy is written about in the Bible. While being crucified on the cross, Jesus speaks up for those attacking, hating, and literally killing him. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
In order to display real courage, vulnerability is always required.
Acts and words filled with hate are just hard shells of armor used to cover up hurt and a feeling of insignificance or worthlessness inside people. Vulnerability requires our strength to come from our heart, with an authentic connection to how we truly feel, not from our fears and the armor we place around ourselves, followed by unconscious emotional actions that hurt. Leading from the heart does not mean that we don’t create healthy separation or act in ways to protect ourselves. It just means that it is not hate and fear that drives our actions.
“The way I see it is we’ve all got two wolves in a suit. A good one and a bad one. Best I can tell is we’ve just got to feed that good one a little more than the bad one.”Matthew McConaughey
As we strive to live authentically, without the shells of anger or fear, get over the fact of thinking you have to be perfect. We all have negative thoughts that come to us. We all have mistakes that have and will be made. Take time to conduct a self-check. Our life becomes what we choose to feed more often. Are we feeding the negative comments from others and continuing to make excuses for why we lash out, while keeping our focus on what we can’t do, or are we spending our time relishing in the good around us? Regardless of circumstances, those who are happy, spend more of their time in gratitude.
If the list of what angers and frustrates us is longer than what we are grateful for, then real self-evaluation and reflection needs to take place to change the way that scale tips. Gratitude is the Holy Grail for content, peace and joy in our lives.
Who are the real heroes that emerge in life? Who are those truly celebrated in a way that stands the test of time? They are the people who have been hated and ridiculed more than most. They are also the people who get in the habit of “feeding that good wolf a little more than the bad one.” They are those who make one seemingly small choice after small choice leading towards their heart and further away from hate, fear and group-think.
Be proud of the fact that you are important enough to be put-down, hated, and ridiculed. Only the greatest among us are!
Nelson Mandela was raised as a privileged African, having access to elite schooling. He made the choice to set that privilege aside to fight against the injustices done to black Africans in South Africa. This decision resulted in Nelson Mandela being arrested and sentenced to life in prison before his release and eventual election to President of South Africa, resulting in a fundamental shift towards unity in his land.
While some in Nazi Germany followed suit with the government’s act of annihilating its Jewish citizens, other Anglo-Germans risked their own lives and the lives of their family to help those being persecuted.
Jackie Robinson fought through fear and feelings of anger on and off the baseball field to have the “guts not to fight,” motivated by those who looked up to his example and the hope he provided for uniting a divided people. Jackie’s Caucasian teammate, Pee Wee Reese, made a bold stand in support of his African American teammate, versus simply taking the path of least resistance.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”Martin Luther King Jr.
In each of these situations, the act was selfless, where self-preservation and personal gain was not the motivation for the greater acts of compassion and righteousness. The motivation in each situation mentioned above was to help and stand-up for people being victimized by others, who may not have the knowledge, societal standing, or ability to stand-up for themselves at that moment in time. Each of these men endured a torrent of hate for the decisions they made and the selfless acts they performed. Righteous acts will not stand up against those attacks unless we find our “why” that is much greater than us as an individual.
Great acts of courage require us to accept real vulnerability and to be centered around something greater than our self.
Being hated, put-down, or ridiculed for choices made when following your heart, is a sign of real courage and true vulnerability. It is a sign of being INCREDIBLE! Choose to move in. Choose to see what unites us. Choose to face fear and be vulnerable. Choose to stand up for something greater than yourself. Choose Your Fate world.
Travis N. Jensen