Today a friend posted a message that a complete stranger sent to him online. The person knew only one thing about him yet felt the need to call him extremely offensive names and even WISH HIM DEAD! My friend reported it to the proper authorities and fortunately is secure in his self-worth. As he said, "Thankfully, I’m old and wise enough to let this type of disgusting bullying roll off my back, but can you imagine how a teenager feels when they get a message like this?"
I'd like to think that it is 2018 and therefore things like this don't happen as much anymore. After all, the world is a much smaller place than it used to be and sheer positive personal experience HAS to be changing some minds, right? Those people we might have only known enough to put in our neat little boxes now have many representatives with familiar faces we've come to know and love. Those faces must be rendering all the former labels invalid so I shake my head and wonder why this behavior is still happening. Aren't most of us interacting daily with a variety of people who aren't exactly like us? Are we not going to school, working, traveling, playing sports, serving, and living with people from all over the world and with every kind of belief and genetic composition? Have we still not found ANYTHING to love about the other humans occupying this temporary home or are we so scared of actually liking someone we throw around vitriol when they breach that comfortable distance?
Now I’m not saying I’m all kumbaya for everyone, nor do I have some delusional fantasy that writing this will make doves glide through the air as we skip arm-in-arm delivering apple pies to those we’ve wronged. I have to consciously work at loving people the way Caleb loves them and sometimes that is REALLY hard! Some people manage to absolutely max out my patience or disappoint me in ways I didn’t think they ever could. No amount of yelling, calling them names, or even trying to have civil disagreements helps correct their behavior so I focus my attention on people and things more practical and deserving. Traffic is still my arch nemesis but I haven’t given up that fight either (for that story, you can be so enlightened here: https://thecalebeffect.org/kindness/).
Outside of the roadways there are still daily frustrations and overwhelming struggles. You might have even seen me on a day that the conflict had nearly consumed me and not even known it. That’s not much different than many people you might’ve encountered today. There is a gentle soul who was ridiculed by her peers in home room for wearing her head scarf; another who cried himself to sleep last night after being disowned for being his true self; and too many families with empty chairs at dinner tonight after hate entered their synagogue. They still had to take care of their responsibilities today and they will have to keep doing that tomorrow and the next day, too. Will you be too busy whispering something under your breath or being impatient with them when they take a little longer in your line? What if instead we went out of our way to surprise someone by extending them some common courtesy that isn’t nearly so common?
We all have our battles but how we react to all this Earthy pain matters. They say “hurt people hurt people” but I feel pretty qualified in saying I don’t think that’s a good enough excuse. I’ve said before and I still believe it to be true - we are supposed to see people a little like Will Rogers who said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” Once again, I don’t think he said it because he was going to be besties with the whole world, but I DO think he meant that there really IS something to like about every person in the world.
I am a naturally curious person who is constantly chasing my sidebar of thoughts just to stay on topic. I'm probably captain of asking questions that I would've been scolded for uttering as a kid. What I’ve learned so far though is the more I ask, the more people seem to be grateful to share with me. I can do the small talk, but I prefer bigger dialogue that goes beyond the weather, football teams, and TV shows. I grew up in a small town with people who had many similarities. It was a good place to learn how to avoid potholes and how a community comes together during tragedies, but my diversity training got a later start than a majority of my friends. (In fact, I didn’t fly on a commercial airline until I was 21 years old when my sister took me to Hawaii on a trip she earned from work.)
Every time we had a foreign exchange student I wanted to know everything about the way they lived, ate, celebrated holidays, and how to say things in their language. I loved learning about a whole new world and the truth is I am still learning. Part of that has meant discovering things I've done that were offensive but that I never knew were hurtful until after the fact. They say when you know better you do better and that is what I have tried to do. Whenever I wonder how to best proceed with a topic I don’t know enough about, I just ask someone qualified and honest enough to give me their uncensored thoughts. I am grateful to call so many distinctive and beautiful people my true friends. Thank you for loving me and welcoming me even when I was pretty clueless. I hope I have always been the kind of friend who loves and welcomes you, too.
For the guy behind an anonymous screen, dismissing my friend’s life as one without value, I feel pity for you. I suspect you and my friend have more in common that you are willing to admit but now you will never have the chance to find out. I am sorry you are so filled with hate that you feel compelled to tell people you don’t even know that they need to die. You missed out on an educated, hard-working, kind, fun-loving, potential friend.
Will Rogers was right. I never met a man I didn’t like either. If my path ever crosses yours, I will focus my attention on the less malevolent parts that must still be innate in you somewhere and a forever 2-year-old boy will hold me back from gloating about what an awesome guy my friend really is. In the meantime, I’m sincerely wishing you find your happy place soon.