I’m called the “Prof” around here for a reason. Most of my postings probably appeal to people like me who lean — at least slightly — toward the TJ (thinking and judgment) end of the Myers Briggs scale than the FP (feeling and perception) end. Which doesn’t mean that I don’t get stirred up by the Rev on a roll, because I sure as heck do. I can be surprisingly emotional for someone so Spock-logical. I don’t often talk about my spiritual convictions, even though I take them extremely seriously, because I think my religion is truly no one’s business but my own, but today I’m going to borrow the Rev’s robes and take a bit of a dive off the deep end and get into more “emotional” territory. Wish me luck…
A friend posted a link last week to a Facebook page. She posted the link because she wanted us to report it for hate speech. It’s gone now so I can’t quote it or post a link, but the gist was that it was a page dedicated to ending parking permits for people with disabilities. I personally don’t have a parking permit for any disability, but as the girlfriend of a man whose daughter has lived with cerebral palsy for 21 years now, I have to admit that I take the subject personally. The page title alone did not qualify as hate speech (I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt and I also allow them the right to have a different opinion from me.), but I clicked on the group’s description and there was a large paragraph
explaining just exactly why this group thought that parking permits should be ended. To say that it was ugly minimizes the visceral feeling I got reading it. The person who wrote it implied that if a person could drive, then he or she can walk just as far as an able-bodied person and therefore should not get the advantage that a parking permit bestows. And if a person can’t drive, then he or she should not be out and about because he or she is just too disabled to be worthy of being in public.
Wow. Someone who can’t function as well as this ablebodied person should not get help to interact with the public because this person has judged him or her and found him or her not up to standards. Sorry, Christopher Reeve; sorry, Stephen Hawking; sorry, Brooke Ellison, you’re just not what we want around here.
The paragraph ended with a call to civil disobedience. Take a picture of your car straddling handicapped parking spaces, steal a parking permit if you get the chance, things like that. These people were actually advocating targeting innocent people. In my book, THAT qualified as hate speech. The group was reported a number of times and removed from Facebook, but not before I got an email saying “After reviewing your report, we were not able to confirm that the specific group you reported violates Facebook’s Statement of Rights and Responsibilities.” Really? It’s okay with Facebook to advocate committing crimes that target people with disabilities?
This kind of hate, it’s not new or unusual. It appears everywhere, certainly all over Facebook. There are those who rave against poor people, rich people, gay people, black people, illegal immigrants, Islamic people, fundamentalist Christians, WASP males, women who want legal abortions, legislators, lobbyists, Andrew Wakefield, “the government,” the CDC and vaccine manufacturers. You name the group, I can probably name someone who hates them. Most of these people don’t think of themselves as promoting hate. They think that they are accurately judging the situation. But they’re not, they’re blinded by a big ol’ plank. As someone very wise once said, “First take the plank out of your own eye and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”
What is the plank made of? Fear. Every little bit of hate comes down to fear. Lots of different fears, but always at the bottom is fear. In the case of the handicapped-parking-permit haters, it seems to be fear that someone else is “getting a better deal” than they are. Now someone from the outside can see that that’s laughable. Someone who can’t use their legs and is confined for life to a wheelchair is obviously not “getting a better deal” in life than someone who has to park a few minutes farther away. Neither is someone whose child is severely affected by autism and needs that parking permit in order to get through the day.
People who rail against the CDC and the vaccine manufacturers? I know what they’re afraid of. They’re afraid that the power those organizations wield will harm more and more people as time goes on. They’re afraid that they won’t be able to recover their children from the harm already done to them. And they’re afraid the powers that be will be able to stifle truth forever, and we won’t be able to turn the tide and make our way back to health.
The people who hate “anti-vaccine whackos” are afraid of infectious disease. They can’t even hear what we are saying because their fear is so great. If you investigate the facts, you can easily see that the odds of infectious disease, especially fatal infectious disease, are actually extremely low. If you investigate further you find that there are ways to treat infectious diseases that make fatalities and complications even less likely. So, vaccines are more of an inoculation against the fear of disease than the disease itself.
Fear blinds people to facts, but what’s more it blinds people to the humanity of the “other.” What is the antidote to this fear? To any fear? The only thing I know of is “love.” If you love the “other,” it is much harder to fear him or her. I’ve seen it work time and time again. Just recently I read a blog post where a woman, who lived in a fundamentally fundamentalist town that was known for being homophobic, discovered that her beloved teenaged son was gay. Guess whose fear dropped away overnight?
It’s so easy to do what my friend Tex calls “drinking the Haterade.” Intuitively, we all know it’s a bad idea, but sometimes it seems really hard not to. Haterade can be disguised as all kinds of attractive things, a nice frozen margarita for instance… *sigh* Where was I? Oh, yeah, Haterade. So, what can you do when you figure out that frozen margarita was really Haterade? How do you convert the hate into love for someone you don’t know and think is truly despicable? Well, there’s a native American saying: “Before you criticize a man walk a mile in his moccasins.” Here’s where a good imagination can come in really handy. If you can imagine what it’s like to live life as that person, you don’t have to literally don the moccasins. I’m actually a trained actor, so I’m pretty good at this. If you don’t have that kind of imagination, you can find other ways to do that walk. One of the best ways is to talk to people as non-judgmentally as possible. See what they have to say about their experience while you’re withholding judgment. That same wise man said, “Judge not lest ye be judged” and dang if he wasn’t right about that one, too! I am often surprised at how reasonable people are when I give them a chance, and how much I can learn. If you can let go of the fear for even a moment, the plank may dissolve forever and you’ll find you can see a whole lot more clearly.
It’s really easy for us here at Thinking Moms to assume that staff people at the CDC, or Merck, or GlaxoSmithKline, are evil and intend to do great harm to the world, but life is never that black and white. I think we all know that there are conscientious people there who truly believe with every fiber of their being that vaccines are the best thing modern medicine has to offer, and that we are putting everyone in danger when we question that. Of course, I don’t agree with them, but understanding that there are real people on the other end of the discussion who are trying to do their best for the world as much as I am helps me to keep open and civil. The more I can lower the overall fear level on both sides, the better. I take the attacks far less personally, which means that I find the back and forth less draining, and I can keep it up for longer, and get more people listening. And, when it comes down to it, that’s really what this is all about it, isn’t it?