How A Whisper Can Drown A Scream
It is an ugly blot on our society. Hate isn’t new, by any means, but we seem to be more aware of it these days. Every day, we see headlines of crimes that are motivated by hatred. Friends and neighbours tell of their experiences with people who are intolerant and express hatred towards them for merely being different.
What can we do? Hate seems to be everywhere. How can we combat an ideological war against something that spreads through generations and societies like a wildfire, often sitting in a smouldering stage for years before catching the wind that will feed it? It can feel overwhelming. Tiring. It can feel like an energy that is being wasted on people who just won’t listen or learn.
So much hate …
It takes one
One voice can break the silence. One solitary noise can build up into a din so loud that it will drown out individual voices around it.
Have you ever had a conversation in a crowded restaurant and the sound of the muted conversations at the nearby tables has made it difficult to hear those you are dining with? Most of the time, the other voices aren’t loud, in and of themselves, but when they are combined, they create something bigger than themselves. Just as leaves on a tree can create a great noise when they are hit by a storm. A single leaf in the wind makes no sound, but when they rub against others …
But, it takes one to break that silence. One voice, then another, and another, until you have a din that drowns out the hate.
A recent experience
A friend of mine posted a writing yesterday that details an encounter she had in a grocery store. The following is an excerpt from that post (emphasis mine):
“I apologized to the people around me and they were very supportive. I really did appreciate that but I was really surprised that of the 30 or so people standing there, including the staff, not one person said a thing. You could tell that they didn’t like it. However, they did nothing.”
First of all, my friend, who did nothing wrong, didn’t owe anyone an apology. Quite the opposite. Those bystanders should be apologising to her for their inaction, especially when things started to escalate.
There is a social psychological phenomenon that says that when people witness something, they are less likely to respond if there are others present. In some of the cases, it is assumed that someone else will respond. If so, why not be that first? Yes, it can be frightening to be the first voice. But imagine how it would feel if you stood by and did or said nothing? What if something horrible happened? Maybe not now, but later. What if that person who is expressing hatred verbally goes on to express it physically? Could you have stopped it? Maybe. You may never know if your stand has any effect, but you will know you did something. You said something.
Often, speech tragically turns into action.
I am a Netflix junky. Last night, I watched a show called Killer Kids. The series explores the motivations of several cases of murder that were perpetrated by minors. Now, I have some issues with the psychology expressed by the experts, in particular, connections with the occult and heavy metal music kept popping up in the commentary, but one episode struck me. Season 1, Episode 4 is entitled “Hate Killers”.
The show features three cases and in two of the three, the deadly crime could have been prevented if people had acted sooner. The murderers had histories. In the third, the perpetrators of the crime can’t even explain why they committed the murder. None of them would admit to hating homosexuals, even after committing the crime. None of them believed that they harboured any hatred towards the gay community. However, they had told jokes about them. They had set the gay community up as “others” in their mind. So, when their drink-addled minds concocted the idea of harassing a homosexual in a nearby park, it really isn’t too surprising that this turned into a murder because they already had the attitude and belief that being different was something to mock.
Another interesting aspect (in all three cases) was that the crimes were committed by a group. Why does that stick with me? The episode starts with this quote:
“Hate is the anger of the weak.
Thus, hate thrives on the weak.
Whether it hides behind a mask
Or becomes the ideology of an entire nation,
Hate is a cancer that devours the conscience,
And begets stupidity.
This contempt of others feeds on ignorance
Like maggots on rotting flesh.”
The weak … the ignorant. In each of the cases, a group mentality emboldened them. What if one of them had said, “No, are you fucking kidding?” What if the more moderate amongst them had stopped them, or reported them? Could one voice, joined by another and another, have saved a life?
“Not my problem”
Really? Are there still people who believe this? Apparently, there are. The urge to not get involved is alive and well in our society. The desire to stay out of other people’s affairs.
I feel the need to insert the Martin Niemöller poem here, but you have probably already heard it. If you haven’t, here it is.
Every last one of us has something that could potentially be a target of hate. All of us. If you have a religious affiliation, there is someone who hates you. Are you a member of a political movement? Guess what, there is someone who hates you (or, in the least, they hate your ideology, but people can’t seem to separate the message from the messenger). If you are different in any way … your sexuality, the way you dress, your class, ethnicity, education level … there is a great chance that there is someone somewhere who holds ill-will towards you and the way you live.
The hater isn’t listening
You may very well be right. A person who is expressing hateful rhetoric may not be open to hearing a message of acceptance. They may be closed to the ideals of love is love, or love trumps hate. But is that a reason to not speak out?
It can be frustrating when you encounter hate, or entitlement, or a variety of other ingrained attitudes, and it seems that the person who is being called out just doesn’t get it. This is most evident in on-line encounters. Those who send the inappropriate messages keep sending those messages. Some will immediately come back with some hateful, insulting comment in response to being asked to stop sending inappropriate messages. Oh, the number of times I was informed that I am “too fat to fuck” after politely declining someone’s invitation to fuck …
I could call them out. I could shame them publicly. Generally, I just stop responding. What’s the point, right? Inappropriate commenters are going to continue to comment inappropriately. Ignoring inappropriate comments works, but what about when those comments turn to hate? (It could definitely be argued that comments like “you’re too fat to fuck anyway” is a hateful message … misogynistic and body-shaming) But, just accepting that haters gonna hate doesn’t work for me.
I still don’t think that publicly shaming someone is effective, but I do what to educate. I may not be able to reach the person who is saying the hateful comments, but they are not the only ones listening. And if I bring attention to the situation in a non-threatening, non-shaming manner, I may be able to affect the bystanders. And when it comes to countering hateful messages, we need to do something … hate spreads.
“Not one person said a thing”
Back to my friend’s experience, there were probably other bystanders who felt that what they were hearing was wrong. In fact, my friend said as much. So, why didn’t they say or do anything?
They might not have had the courage to be that first voice. And, there might be a few people who are exposed to the hateful ideology in their homes, workplaces, local communities, who aren’t beyond redemption. Maybe they haven’t looked at things through someone else’s eyes … yet. Could your words be the ones that give them pause to think about their own thoughts? Maybe you’ll be the voice of reason when all they hear at home is intolerance and bigotry. Or, perhaps you’ll start them on a path of calling out bigotry when they see it.
Like a cancer, it grows
Alphonse Daudet called hate a cancer. Like the disease, it spreads through a society and infects and alters the healthy cells. Maybe we can’t reverse and repair the diseased parts, but we can do our best to prevent its spread to surrounding tissues.
It is also an indoctrination. A child isn’t born with hatred towards another. This is something that they learn. And just like any other form of indoctrination, the antidote is education.
And who knows, maybe you will reach the hater too. Even if you can’t reach them, you can take away their (perceived) power. You can peacefully shift the focus away from them indicating that their message isn’t going to be accepted.
A whisper can drown a scream
If you have the strength of conviction to be the first voice, others may join. You don’t need to get up in their face and you definitely should maintain a distance. But, call them out. Say something like:
“Dude, that’s not appropriate!“
If you hear someone speaking out, join them. It isn’t necessary to also confront the person who is being hateful. Instead, consider thanking the voice of reason. Demonstrate your dissension for the hate speech by throwing your support behind the person who spoke out. (This will also strip the hater of their audience, shifting the positive energy towards the person taking a stand)
“Thanks for saying something. I agree.“
Show support for the person who was the target of the hate. Again, you are stealing what little power the hater had by directing your focus and support on the object of their hatred.
“Are you okay?”
“Can I walk you to your car?”
“Would you like me to stay with you until the authorities arrive?“
When enough voices, even softly-spoken ones, join in the conversation, the din can become so loud, that it will overcome the scream of hatred. And maybe, just maybe, someone will walk away in a more enlightened state of mind. In the very least, we will know that the target is safe and will have removed the wind from the hater’s sails.
“Hate is the anger of the weak”
We need courage and strength to counter and overcome this weakness.