Behind the bombings, kidnapped women and ever more American children dying in firearms accidents that so steadily, searingly are imprinting on our American psyches, are uncountable, if unseen, acts of common good. Though still far too few.
“No More Hurting People”
There was the peace-activist dad of a dead soldier passing out flyers, who saved the life of a man who’s witness account would be pivotal for identifying the brothers suspected of the violence that blasted his legs off and killed three people. And the still grieving Sandy Hook parents speaking non-stop to all who’d listen, to convince Congress to pass gun control legislation. Then the man who created an ad for Harley Davidson Motorcycle’s 110th anniversary featuring the image of Boston’s youngest victim smiling while holding a poster he made, that read: “No More Hurting People. Peace.”
Some people seem so supportive and polite they’re near poster-children for kindness. Others are quieter but still project a sweet, positive persona. But lately I’ve been struggling with un-polite things that often go on unseen. People are good and we know this. So are we, more or less. So we try not to judge farther than we see. A gesture we hope others will extend us, too. Still.
Like everyone I suppose, I’ve been the target of unkindness. Disheartening and deeply unsettling, it hasn’t easily gone away. For me, writing helps. One essay I’ve re-posted numerous times contains among its themes the vivid tendrils of a very personal, very unkind message directed squarely at me.
Perhaps that’s why I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time swinging directly back at public bullies who personify so many personal, brutal attacks. A while back, Senator Nick Bell (R, Arkansas) got the fullest force of my disgust. But Bell, obnoxious as he is, may not be as damaging as some quieter, seemingly politer people.
I was recently given a vivid reminder of this. Quite by accident I saw something no one was supposed to see.
The assault wasn’t directed at me, or generated by any public figure. Not a generalized attack on a whole group of nameless, faceless people, like Bell’s disgusting comment was. Or from a socio-pathetic recluse like the Cleveland man who kept three women as hostages, raping them for years, while neighbors and others saw nothing amiss. Nor did it express any offense the attacking person suffered to trigger the breathtaking cruelty. It was an intentional and unfiltered violation. That used painful personal information to inflate and inflame a point well beyond relevance.
Genesis of Shame
The saddest part is that it was directed from one sibling at another.
Like all people, both siblings have had their struggles, embarrassments and shames. In the case of this target, some have been losses so stupefying the person was flattened, barely able to go on. They still remain racked with the kind of misdirected guilt people have when they decide in hindsight they could have done more or better. When in truth they did as much as any of us could — if not more, in the same circumstances.
The hatred I witnessed, sadly, is not unusual. Though I did address it directly with the attacker. Not that doing so protected the target of vitriol. It was too late. Likely they are now nursing another scar, while still healing from previous pain. Though no one will see their despair.
So my reaction won’t change much with these two siblings. Which is why I’m sharing the ugliness here.
I have no wish to demonize this particular person who lacked any expression of empathy. In spite of their unkind behavior, like us all, I imagine even this attacker in their way, tries to be good.
Ignorance Abets Violence
But, I’m no longer willing to look away from this sort of aggression, in public or private. As we all know, ignored and unchecked violence only persists if it remains under-the-radar. Or worse, is a enabled by polite people who really do want to believe the best or really just don’t want to talk about bad stuff anymore.
There comes a point when positivity is the front for denial — a sort of cloaked co-dependence. Or even an act that empowers more negativity. As we now witness daily.
Majorities stand by in blank silence. Or speak only the occasional polite plaudit to cover their butts, lest they seem uncaring. The few reasoned voices who, try as they may, raise up in dissent against the disparagements are drowned out by vocal others.
The bullies and bellowers are too easily given a pass by the rest of us. While they spread nonsensical propaganda so constantly, it sinks in, surreptitiously infecting wide-swaths of society like some some cultural contagion of psychosis dropped by drones into unknowing communities.
Until things get so bad people finally speak out enmasse as Americans did about gun safety. But then it’s almost always too late.
So much damage has been done, we’re left staring at our own sadly self-fulfilling prophecy come true. Like when Congresspeople ignored the last-minute push of a full 90-percent of people’s demands for background checks.
The Personal is the Public
And like when one sibling, a highly paid professional with customers and neighbors who think they are a good citizen, but, in private reality exhibits little evidence of compassion. Though no one will know what damage was done. One can’t help imagine, given the sibling’s shrill tone that some self-fulfilling familial prophecy might set in again for these two. If not beyond, into their social circle or work.
All this to say I think it’s high time we all wake up and live up to our capacities and not to mention our hard earned freedom to speak up. First, to remember that what we say in full-flare frustration might hit others somewhere deep and raw, hurting them forever.
Second, remembering most, perhaps all of us — carry hidden scars, including some so inexplicable or complicated they may never be known by another. Remember, few escape this life without pain. But much is never seen or spoken of, and some is entirely invisible.
Let’s be careful what we chose to judge and, when we do, where we train our anger. And let’s never, ever assault another where their scars, though they might not be visible, might well still lie. It’s what we’d hope from others. So lets do our part to deserve the same.
Most of all, we all need to stand up and firmly, consistently speak out against bully behaviors by whomever, where ever they occur. Sure, they’ll huff and puff, but make no mistake, they’ll survive. And, so will we. Because if we don’t speak up, our sense of security and fairness won’t hold out for long. If we don’t face the anti-social energies that lie just beneath the thin veneer of polite society, they’ll continue eroding us from the inside out. We need to face those who model them head on, sternly instructing them to grow up or go far, far away.
And if they can’t, tell them they’re in for a figurative kicking to curb. Just as advertisers have done to ever-raging radio host Rush Limbaugh. Where their viciousness and vitriol can stew and steam and smolder however it will, but where the risk of it singeing any more of our collective soul (not to mention our civic dignity) is mitigated, while they stay well out of our ear shot.
Enabling the Tormentors
“Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented,” warned Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.
We, too, must remember passivity in the presence of any assault is anything but polite. Unless we’re willing to acknowledge to ourselves, our families, our children and our world, that we are the knowing and willing enablers of hate, hurt and for too many of us–even more horrible outcomes.
In Wiesel words: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.”