Hate and bigotry have once again raised their ugly head.
While the recent violence perpetrated by white supremacists in Charlottesville is sickening and horrific, sadly such conduct is not unprecedented in our country.
During the time of our Founding Fathers, duels were common place – i.e., Vice President Aaron Burr v. Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton in 1804. Brothers fought against brothers during the bloody battles of the Civil War, and riots were all-too-common in the turmoil surrounding the Civil Rights movement and the Vietnam War in the 1960s.
One only has to peruse through any American History book to see the ubiquitous nature of conflict that has scarred our landscape.
Perhaps it seems much worse and more prevalent now due to the advent of social media and the never ending 24/7 news cycles.
Violence is never an acceptable means of expression. While the First Amendment rights of free expression and speech should be protected at all costs, its protection was never meant to be absolute. The well known axiom of not yelling “fire!” in a crowded theater is very much applicable here.
When zealots on the left or right of the political spectrum march in the guise of exercising free speech, but use it as a pretext for violence, they should be shown for what they are: thugs and criminals. At that instance, their rights should be forfeited. A perversion of the First Amendment can never be tolerated.
Yet I believe my friends on the left and right are doing a disservice to their own cause when they try to cherry pick whom to blame for the violence.
A real mensche does not spend their time trying to assign blame but rather focus on improving their own communities. All rational people in both parties, Republican and Democrat, condemn all forms of violence and all hate groups. I submit to you that the white supremacists, KKK, Antifa and ISIS are different sides of the same racist coin.
Far too many of us argue over whether one group is more violent or deadly. That is not a productive use of our time, as they all share the same common goals – to destroy society as we know it by spreading hate.
Neither should we waste our time by quarreling over whether our leaders have adequately condemned the violence. Examining the tone and the exact wording of a condemnation is an exercise in futility. We could spend hours on the sufficiency of President Obama’s condemnation of those responsible for the five police officers who were killed in Dallas, versus President Trump’s many condemnations of those responsible for the young lady killed in Charlottesville.
Yet it doesn’t bring the victims back to life or get to the root cause of the hate. I suspect both presidents were horrified and overwhelmed by the violence.
The real answer is for each of us to look at the reflection in the mirror if we are sincere about repairing the world and bringing lasting change.
Civility begins within.
First we need to respect those with whom we have honest but sincere differences of opinion. There is no monopoly on the truth, and we can disagree on health care and climate change. That does not make us evil. When we listen to each other, ultimately we grow and become better people.
I suspect that is why God, no matter how we choose to worship, created each of us with two ears and only one mouth. Only when we hear the substance of our neighbors, rather than talking over them, can we truly begin to engage in a constructive and honest dialogue.
Secondly we should go back and embrace the building blocks of our communities. Rather than place all our hopes and dreams on faceless bureaucrats in Washington, we should join and actively participate in our places of worship, civic clubs and non-profits. At a time when membership in these true pillars of the community have declined, what better way is there to simultaneously speak out against hate and strengthen our communities?
Finally, my wife and I each day try to set a positive example for our daughter by the way we choose to live our lives. Often we leave her off at the school with the motto “courage and kindness” as watchwords to live by.
It is not always easy, with the usual challenges of modern life and the voices of hate permeating through the media. Yet ultimately our character is formed by how we react to the worst in others.
We cannot control others, but we can begin to repair the world by being the best we can be.
The writer lives in Augusta.