I’m a pretty public person. I tend to share my opinions and welcome the opportunity to engage with those whose views differ from mine. As strongly as I hold my own beliefs, I am equally fervent in my desire to embrace what a true Democracy is. It’s not about everyone agreeing. It’s the opposite of that. Democracy is about people of variegated backgrounds and beliefs coming together in a reasoned manner for passionate and respectful debate that finds as close to middle ground as possible. It is about moving the ball forward.
When it comes to some things – like racism, bigotry and hatred – it’s a different story. I know I should feel compassion for those whose sophomoric and narrow-minded views cement them on the wrong side of history. With people like this it’s best to take a deep breath and not let them rankle you. They are, after all, just saturated in fear. The genesis of hatred, is fear. It’s not unusual for people to be uncomfortable with things they don’t understand. For some, however, that discomfort translates to fear, because due to ignorance they believe their own lives are in jeopardy.
What a sad sad way to live.
I know I should be tolerant. I know I should have compassion. These people are, after all, living in a cage of their own making.
When these people begin to lash out, foisting their fears on others and creating an unsafe society for those with whom they disagree, the thin veneer of tolerance I have for such people wears right away.
We live in a time when correction of bad behavior has all about disappeared. People say and do unconscionable things with no consequence. There is a monster in our midst and he is empowering an element of society – an element whose hatred, bigotry and anger towards all who are “different” – and gives rise to violent talk … and violent action. We live in a time, where failure to speak up and condemn these bad behaviors is more dangerous than anything else.
Too many (myself included) have sat for too long during this current Presidential cycle in silence as the flames of hatred, bigotry, misogyny, racism and xenophobia got soaked in the kerosene that spews every time Donald Trump opens his mouth.
That man is a bully and what’s worse is there seem to be few members of the Republican party with enough spine to step up and speak out against his methods. They say he’ll change. They say this isn’t who he is. They rationalize and justify because they’re too humiliated that they underestimated this monster.
When I saw this video from the Democratic National Convention about bullies, a quiet voice in the back of my head said, “It’s time.”
Rather than focusing on the bloviating bully and his jackboot march across civility, for now I want to begin where my own foundation got rattled. It was a moment several months ago when I found myself confronted with a junior varsity version of hatred.
In March I participated in a panel discussion on the local NPR affiliate, KNPR, for International Women’s Day. It was a wide-ranging conversation with two other great guests – Dana Dwiggins, who is a partner at Solomon, Dwiggins and Freer; and Tracy Wakefield the medical director for Healthcare Partners. Interestingly all three of us commented consistently about focusing on our work and our skills and gender not really being a factor in how we did our work but rather how others viewed us.
At one point I remarked to host Joe Schoenmann that my being a woman was just another “thing” about me – in the same way that I am Jewish and also happen to be gay.
Little did I know that off-hand comment would lead where it did – directly into the cross-hairs of precisely the kind of people who are empowered by Donald Trump’s message of hate.
That day and for several days after, I received a series of harassing and threatening texts and calls from people who were less than pleased at my being a “f*cking dyke”. At first I let it roll off my back, but after several days my resolve began to waver. I found myself looking over my shoulder, taking extra precaution when leaving the office and even talking with the security company that monitors my business about helping me get a gun.
Then I paused. I took heed to what the phalanx of friends and allies were saying – that to change my life is to let the bullies win. They said they had my back. And so with a deep breath I let it pass.
Fast forward to June 12 – the horrific Sunday when we learned about the massacre at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, FL. Throughout that entire day and the several days after, the feelings of fear arose in me again. A sense that I was in danger, merely because of who I am.
When the publisher of QVegas Magazine reached out and asked if I would be willing to contribute an essay to a special issue they were dedicating to the Orlando tragedy, at first I hesitated. The idea of putting myself out there, even though in a gay-focused publication, felt scary. That’s when the quiet voice arose … Don’t let the bullies win, it said. I agreed to contribute an essay and a few days later, offered up this commentary for the special issue.
I deleted all the texts from the haters and blocked their numbers. I also deleted the voice mails. Well, all but one. People asked me if I would publish the cell phone number from which it came. Somehow that felt like stooping a bit too low. But since so many people asked, here is what a bigot sounds like …
If I’m not going to name names or publish this sad, angry individual’s number, why post the audio? Because it’s important, I believe, to know thy enemy. All you need do is listen a bit to hear the fear underlying the anger. It’s in that tone, that desperate sound when one is forgetting to breathe because he’s just spewing thoughts out so quickly. It’s the repetition over and over of phrases that don’t even make sense. It’s sad.
This morning I was included in an email thread in which someone who I love very much expressed deep fear and concern about the current state of affairs. That there is a literal crazy person in pole position to potentially take the highest office of this country. In thinking about her concerns, I shared the following thoughts…
Staying silent is never a good idea. In fact, when bullies speak, we must raise our voices … but that raising isn’t about being strident and shrill, rather it is about being steady and calm. When one calm, soft voice of reason joins another and another and another and another the collective becomes truly powerful. At the risk of being cliche, think about a slender reed growing alongside a river. Take one and it bends and snaps quite easily, it’s delicate constitution too gentle to stand up to force. Gather a bunch of them, however, and then try the same thing. No dice. As a collective, those graceful and gentle things are strong. They are unbreakable.
So, too, are we – the voices of reasoned discourse. Be you Democrat, Republican, Independent, Libertarian, Green Party or other … this is not about politics. This is about humanity and the kind of society we wish to be.
What will your choice be? Will you hide behind the seats in the upper balcony or will you join me in the arena?