Claim the Good – End the Hate?

Your goodness matters.  Your words convey meaning.  Today’s indictment of the Hutaree militia may be written off by some as just another violent fringe group.  The news is hard to view in isolation.  We are besieged by an escalation of hate-filled violent language.  What does it mean for us to be well-intentioned, good people?  Ethics, values, meaning and purpose are at play.  Claiming the good is possible.

Freedom to disagree with passionate fervor is a mark of our common life.  The freedom to persuade, discuss and debate is a right that we claim.  It is a right that many in the world long for.  For months we have endured new levels of language demeaning, demonizing, diminishing and of destruction.  Violent words are not just words.  Our demurring silence gives permission. Begging to Differ is a choice!

Is this the time to claim the good?  There are values at stake about the increasing diversity of our society.  The inherent value in honoring diversity of opinion, culture, race, gender and sexuality says “You matter” to each person.   Is compassion for others a value that gets translated into what we say and do?

A consequence of demonizing language, perhaps unintended by some, is to tear apart the fabric of ethics.  When destructive words invite people to imagine doing violence against another person or group we teeter on the brink of giving permission to violence or even killing.  It is possible to use words which express strong disagreement but which do not invite us to the laws of the jungle.

Words have meaning.  To claim the good invites active, attentive listening.  Turning up the volume or not listening effectively says, “You don’t matter.”  Most of us don’t believe that about others.  When words are used to say, “I disagree with you and I will write you off” it is difficult to find common purpose.  I certainly don’t want to live in a world where we become deaf to honest difference of opinion and blind to others. Can we create a mindful culture in which the dignity of difference is celebrated?

It is up those who seek the good to be asking about values, ethics, meaning and purpose not just in our national life, but also, in our homes, schools, communities and the organizations we belong to. Throwing up our hands in despair or writing off demonizing language is a way of disengaging.  Too much is at stake for that to be an option.  Whether we like it or admit to it, we’re all made for oneness.

It may be that a universe separates militia groups like Hutaree from the language being thrown around so freely.  It will remain as a vast gulf if the goodness in others is honored by remembering that every word and act of ours has consequences.

This is not simply about “free speech”.  It is not about simply writing off hate group militias.  It is not about dismissing language as “just words.”   It is about how we will look at each other, how we will engage.  It is about values, ethics, meaning and purpose.  Claim the goodness.

Robert V. Taylor – Begging to Differ

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One Comment

  1. Thanks for this reflection, Robert. This feels like a unique political moment in our nation, although everything we are experiencing builds from centuries of division and slavery here. It’s sometimes hard to tell whether we are moving forward or backward, and the reality is probably some of both.

    Your thoughts reminded me of the work of an initiative called Grow the Hope (www.growthehope.org), which was founded by David Hart. David had done some DC-based work with the Tikkun Community, and we got to know one another when we both participated in the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership — which brought together a number of different grassroots faith-based peace groups on a couple projects. (I was representing the Fellowship of Reconciliation, for whom I still work.)

    On another topic — but one that feels somehow connected — I hope you will learn about and get connected to an extraordinary documentary film series that will be coming out in the next few weeks. It’s called “Have You Heard From Johannesburg?” and it comprised of 7 different new films that profile the history of the international solidarity movement that worked to support the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. I’ve seen three of the films in unfinished versions, and can report they are magnificent. Learn more at:
    http://www.activevoice.net/haveyouheard.html

    peace, Ethan

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