14 November 2011

On Lessons Learned About Hatred

You take your lessons where you find them. When you watch a national scandal develop on your doorstep, it is cause for reflection. The past week has been difficult for this community as it dealt with the ramifications of the sex abuse allegations.The charges are horrific and reflect a serious betrayal of trust. People are at turns angry and disgusted and heartbroken.

While our community has been reeling from the shocking accusations, the national media has swooped in with wall-to-wall coverage. The unceasing reporting has inflamed the entire nation with anger and hatred. First, it was rightfully directed towards the accused. But as the story developed and the details came out, the anger spread outwards--to the entire athletic department, to the university, and ultimately to the community as a whole.

A blog I read regularly had an angry post attacking not just those involved, but the entire Penn State and State College community for valuing football over human life. The commenters began echoing those sentiments in vile terms. I commented in an attempt to show that people here are concerned with the victims and angered by the situation, but it's hard for a single voice to be heard when the mob starts baying.

Over the week, the anger grew even stronger. Vile, hateful comments flooded social media and the internet, wishing death and destruction on the university, the town, and even the entire state. (This is not an exaggeration. You can do a search on Penn State and easily find them.) The students' vigil at Old Main and the alumni's raising of almost $250,000 in two days for a sex abuse charity have been cynically discarded as "public relations exercises" instead of recognizing that it represents the concern of the community. People with no interest in college football gleefully watched the game Saturday in hopes of seeing violence erupt. Instead, I hope their hearts were softened by moving group prayer offered by both Penn State and Nebraska before the game.

Of course there are plenty of reasons to be angry. It's easy to hate in this situation. What happened was so monstrous, so unconscionable, that anger and hatred is understandable and almost impossible to resist. Everyone I've talked to in our community has been extremely angry.  But it's been distressing to watch so much hatred being directed not just at the perpetrator and those whose inaction allowed it to continue, but at this reeling community. So many people are using the actions of a few to malign and attack an entire community of innocent, heartbroken people.

And that has led me to look inward and ask a hard question of myself: do I do the same thing? How often do I read a story that fills me with "righteous anger" that I then allow to spread over an entire community or group of people? The answer shames me because it's more than I would imagine.

It's little comfort to realize that I'm not alone in this. It's an entirely human reaction to divide the world into us and them. And our society encourages that, just read the paper, follow blogs, watch T.V. news, or listen to talk radio. While divisions naturally arise from differences and anger is a normal reaction to cruelty and injustice, you have to nurture these negative feelings to create hatred.

This story is not over for the victims, for the university, or for the community. The weeks and months to come will still be challenging.

So you take your lessons where you find them. After seeing how quickly anger can turn to hatred, I'm going to work hard on my awareness. When I read a story that angers me, I'll acknowledge the anger, but not feed it. When I'm talking with someone and find that conversation is leading down a negative path, I'll check my words and change the nature of the discussion. And when I encounter something that is full of anger and division, I'll close the page or turn it off. It's a small change, but one that I hope can make my little corner of the world a better place.

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