On July 27, a Sunday morning -- during a children's production put on by the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tenn. -- a lone gunman came through the back doors and opened fire on the parishioners, causing the deaths of two of the congregation, Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger. The gunman, Jim David Adkisson is said to have been distraught over not being able to find a job, and had an adamant dislike of the liberal movement and gays.
That last line I wrote is what I wish to speak about.
The labeling that we as a Western civilization have come to see as a commonplace occurrence has started to take a serious toll on our individual relations. Mr. Adkisson's motivations have been established to be a blanket hatred for an abstract idea. Labeling one another and making generalizations are a normal part of our psyche, but allowing these labels to dictate our actions to the point of violence, hatred and bigotry is intolerable.
WE HAVE BEEN made to believe that we can make rash judgments of others by the labels we put on them. We do this by blindly assuming traits that go along with these labels. We have seen this in our media's portrayal of Muslims, of illegal immigrants and of Europeans. But more importantly we have seen the media's blanket portrayal of conservatives, liberals, rural people, urbanites, Christians, Jews, humanists, agnostics and pagans. All of these labels bring forth images fed to us by our many different outlets of societal discourse.
The problem with all of these images is their inability to describe reality. As a Unitarian Universalist, I believe in seven principles. The first two principles are the most applicable here. They affirm "the inherent worth and dignity of every person;" and "justice, equity and compassion in human relations." These two principles, in short, assure the fact that every one of us is an individual, and allows for the reality that labels do not describe us. By using labels and believing in their representations we demean the worth and dignity of every person. By using labels and believing in their representations we fail to use justice, equity and compassion in our human relations.
THE ATROCIOUS acts by Mr. Adkisson appear to spring from his belief in certain labels; these labels do not completely fit the lives that he ended prematurely. By reinforcing and adding to the labels in our own lives we contribute to the social discourse which bring about the division, hatred and violence we saw that Sunday morning.
I believe that it is time that we become more conscious of how we structure our lives. We all use labels, but it is time that we refuse to let them run our lives. We must strive to treat others as individuals, as equals and as human beings.
(The writer is president of the Board of Trustees for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Augusta.)