What have we become?
That’s the only thing which went through my mind after hearing of the violence which happened yesterday in West Virginia. It’s the same thought I had when Congressman Steve Scalise was almost murdered in June. Just what have we become as a country, as a society, and as individuals to decide it’s okay to plow a car into a group of people you disagree with, leaving one dead. What have we become to think it’s okay to attack political opponents with pepper spray or dumpsters or scrawl graffiti saying, “Kill Trump” or “Kill Nazis,” as a way to either make a point or hope to get others in trouble?
It’s possible this is just human nature at its worst. Let’s remember, the Boston Massacre wasn’t necessarily British soldiers attacking colonists for no reason, but also the fact a mob had surrounded them and was throwing objects at them. Bernard-René de Launay and Jacques de Flesselles were assassinated by a mob at the onset of the French Revolution. The Bloody Sundays in Ireland and England. Nazi concentration camps and American internment camps for the Japanese. John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry, and the entire notion of slavery, in general. Muslims killing each other because they disagree with what Imam or Caliph to follow. Christians going after other Christians because they won’t follow the pope or refuse to believe the pope is wrong. Even the Viking culture I love to study and try to emulate at times is full of attacks on innocent people, not on some glorious battlefield but raids on ill-prepared churches and towns. Is this really all we are as people? Maybe the gods of war and conflict like Odin, Tyr, The Morrigan, Mars, Horus, and Ares are thriving because we are constantly trying to murder and destroy each others.
It makes me sick, and weighs heavily on my heart.
I understand disagreeing with political opponents, and wanting to debate them. I have zero problem with people organizing protests, counter protests, counter-counter protests to express a political opinion, even if I think they’re anathema to this country and the ideals it was founded upon. I believe in the First Amendment, which gives people the freedom of speech, assembly, religion, and the press.
But don’t hurt or kill anyone or damage or destroy private property. Don’t attempt to tread on someone else’s liberty by punching them in the face or blowing up a building to make a point. If you see someone who appears to be willing to act out, try to calm them down. Get them away from the situation. Sometimes walking away is better than getting in someone’s face and screaming obscenities. Don’t just rely on police to deescalate a situation, but rely on yourself or a friend.
There’s nothing wrong with being willing to respectfully talk with political opponents. If it involves finding someone who is wearing a Che Guervara shirt or carrying a Confederate battle flag, ask them, kindly, why they’re doing it. Don’t confront them angrily about it, because it’s likely to only increase tensions, but try to understand their point of view. It will go a long way towards helping you adjust your own arguments and messaging to win discussions, trust me. If they say something mean, repay it with kindness. There’s something to be said about self-control and diffusing a situation.
A calm discussion doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to convince political opponents to come to your line of thinking, or vice versa. But it can foster dialogue, and ostracize those who encourage violence. The opinions may not change over the course of a single conversation, but it can bring about understanding, even to a debate which is so emotional. And I’m not talking about going after so-called thought leaders, but their followers. A debate with an [insert political person here] might not win them over, but a discussion with a follower might. Just not over social media because no one can get tone or inflection in just 140 characters. Do a face-to-face conversation, if they’re willing to engage, and don’t sweat it if they’re not.
The fact is this: we’re all people, whether we have differences of opinion, color of skin, accents, or beliefs. We breathe the same air, bleed the same blood, and eat the same things. Yes, life is a struggle, but it doesn’t mean you have to go through life hating others and looking to lash out at them. We’re better than that.