Jan. 23rd, 2021
You never understand someone until you really know them. Misunderstanding is the gateway drug to hate. Empathy is the key to peace.
It starts innocently. You are a kid, watching TV. The larger-than-life sitcom cast galavant across your screen. Everyone fits into their perfect little mold. Hot, dumb blonde. Check. Nerdy guy. Check. Obnoxious little brother. Cooler-than-thou big brother. Hopelessly out of touch parents. Tough as nails emo. Constantly, people are reduced to nothing more than a trope.
Imagine you're a kid, and your best friend is a really smart, interesting and nuanced person - who also happens to be a blonde girl. Now, you laugh at the silly stereotype on screen, because you know it isn't true. After all, Ashley is your friend, and she's the smartest person that you know.
Now reverse it. You're a kid and you don't know any blonde girls. All you know is what you see on T.V. It's cemented in your mind. "Blonde girls are stupid." Maybe even "Girls are stupid." You have no real-life experience with blonde girls to back up that statement. But you absorbed the messages from T.V.
Obviously, the dumb blonde stereotype is certainly not the most harmful stereotype portrayed in media. But you understand my message, right?
When you truly know and love someone, you understand them beyond the stereotypes.
When you don't know someone, you can only paint a biased picture of them in your mind based on the messages you've consumed through media.
This stuff gets really messy when it applies to things like a kid raised in an all-white town, whose only knowledge of Black, Latino, Asian or Native American people comes from what is portrayed on T.V. Or a kid who has never met and befriended a gay person and has only seen comedy specials, making fun of gay people. Or a little boy with no girl friends, who forms his image of "what a girl is" based on advertising and media. Someone who has never had a conversation with an autistic person and truly gotten to know them. Someone who has never had a family member in a wheelchair. I could come up with countless more examples.
Misunderstanding is the gateway drug to hate.
Here's an example:
Our hypothetical kid first learns that girls are dumb.
Then he learns that girls are objects.
Then he learns that objects are things he can use for his own purposes - whenever and however he wants.
Then we end up here, in a devastating, dystopic world where ONE IN EVERY SIX WOMEN has been sexually assaulted.
That's our world.
That's our reality.
But what if it wasn't?
What if someone had taught him that girls are not objects?
What if he had learned to UNDERSTAND that girls are people, individual, creative, bright shining souls with a plan and a purpose?
What if he had lived a day inside our heads? Stepped inside our shoes?
Would it have changed anything?
What if you could see inside the mind of someone with OCD? OCD is a relentless cycle of dark thoughts that can cause severe panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and substance abuse. Would you continue to joke about how "you just have to have everything tidy"?
What if you knew what it was like to be kicked out of your home because you were gay, or told that your feelings weren't real, told you were sinful, told you were not loved by the God who loves everyone?
(By the way, God DOES love everyone. Everyone everyone. That's a hill I will die on).
How could you hate them? How could you hate anyone that way?
These are just a few examples. If you could really understand what it was like to be a person, you couldn't hate them (most of the time).
When you purposefully cultivate empathy, you find yourself understanding others. In the process, you find yourself loving them, too.
Don't we all want a world with less hate?
I'm sure you, my reader, do. How can I help, though? you ask. There's so much hate in the world, it just feels overwhelming.
Here's how you help. One day at a time.
You can befriend people that are not like you. You can truly, deeply get to know, love, and cherish people different than yourself. You will find yourself understanding them. You will find yourself willing to fight for them until the end. You will be filled with passion to defend and protect them. Then you will know you've worked towards a hateless world.
You can be careful about the media you and your children consume. You can avoid harmful stereotypes that reduce real, complex human beings into nothing more than a punchline. And if you do happen to see something like that happen, you could have a nuanced discussion about why it happened and why it's wrong.
Grow your empathy. Work at it. Reach out to people. Love them. Know them. Walk in their shoes.
We can and will create a world free of hate.
One day after another.
Raise your children as fighters for love and for peace and for true justice. Raise them to be empathetic. Raise them to be filled with God's spirit of endless, unconditional love for all people.
We can and we will.