Despite all of our effort, our best intentions, the effort we make to rise above, the self-help books we read or the advice we get from those whom we respect we still come to a place when we have to do something we don’t want to, when we have to open our mouth and speak from deep inside ourselves and make the choice to use our voice to have a difficult and painful conversation. Sometimes we have to accept that we cannot love our neighbor. We have to accept that no matter how hard we have tried we will not be able to achieve a peaceful relationship with another human being. Sometimes we have to part ways and promise to do no harm. Hopefully, it is only rarely that we must turn away from another person because we cannot reach compromise and further interaction will only do damage. That is where I am today. And I am deeply saddened by it.
Since November I have been writing about my community’s efforts to resist the Trump and GOP efforts to set our country back, revoke long fought for rights for minorities, their efforts to remove environmental protections and various other ills. But I haven’t discussed some of the challenges and the difficulties of working with humans and getting to agreement. If you follow my posts on social media you know that I have advocated for Democrats to put away their anger about the results of the 2016 Election and move beyond blame and finger pointing. I have tried to listen and be patient and understanding because it was a serious blow to all of us whether you call yourself a Progressive, a Democrat, an Independent or any other political label. I am going to share a painful situation and I will change the identity significantly enough to prevent any potential harm to the players in this story. Please don’t miss the message- it’s the message that’s important NOT the personalities. While I live in a rural community I believe this is probably happening in other communities and hopefully this will be an allegory for us all.
In one of the 6 organizations I belong I have been having trouble with one individual, is it a personality difference, probably, that happens everywhere but this is going beyond, "I like pink- you like blue". All of the organizations to which I belong can be traced to the Democratic Party in one way or another, the point is that all of the members would declare themselves Democrats on their voter ID’s. I will call this person a non-gender specific name, Terry. Terry has been an active member in the community for a lot longer than I have, at least 20 years. Terry ran for public office and has actively promoted others in the community who have run for office. Terry attends meetings, functions, events and conventions and has been very vocal in support of the Democratic Party. Initially when I met Terry I recognized a wealth of knowledge and experience that I could learn from and admired Terry. Slowly over the campaign I began to see cracks and wrinkles and ugly comments would poke out. I attributed it to ‘Freedom of Speech’, that’s their opinion and they are entitled to it. We live in a free country that values free speech as our FIRST amendment.
Since November, Terry’s free speech has become more and more ugly and vile. My first hit came when I wrote my article about my thoughts on the election, "We Did It Again". As a writer I understand that I will not get 100% praising commentary, not everyone will agree with what I have to say- I get that. I shared this piece with the members of my groups and Terry responded with derision and mockery and proceeded to tell me how wrong and clueless I was. I was a bit bruised but I accepted their commentary as their right to their opinion. I prefer that people respond with constructive critique but we don’t live in a perfect world. Little did I know that by sharing this piece with them I had slapped a target on my back.
You see Terry hates Bernie Sanders and Progressives with a passion that will not quit, in fact, it is a tumor that is consuming their mind. Terry considers those who, not only voted for Bernie at any level, but even those who think Bernie has good ideas as a traitor. And not just people who like Bernie, he feels the same about Progressives and Independents- traitors. Yes, a traitor not simply someone who thinks differently but a non-loyal, traitorous Democrat and a pretender and a poser. All that is wrong now is because these treasonous Democrats supported Bernie Sanders and Terry makes his/her voice known loudly and proudly throughout the community and all the way up the Democratic Party to the heads of the DNC. Terry writes hateful letters to the editor of the paper and calls people out publicly. Terry won’t vote for new members to join the group if she/he finds out they supported Bernie Sanders or progressive issues and candidates, Terry doesn’t want them in the party or organization because they are fake Dems and Terry tells them so. Terry sends emails and letters to Democrats around the country stating that ‘Sandernistas’ spread divisive BS because they are not loyal and proud and that not even God will be able to save us now from the damage of the snakes in the grass that lost Hillary the election and if we invite Bernie Supporters, Progressives, Independents and Decline to State people to our meetings we are bringing in people who will stab us in the back. Yesterday he sent our group an email suggesting that it is time to drop the ‘berniecrats’ and hinted at this as the reason why: ‘the shooter of a GOP Congressman and four others was a man who defined himself by his support of Bernie Sanders' progressive politics.’
Hopefully I have given you enough background to justify why we chose the path we did in the past 2 months. Since November I tried the kind, friendly, funny approach to help Terry overcome their anger. That was returned with metaphorical slings and arrows. Other members of the group tried similar tactics. We discussed how we could reach out to Terry and help Terry understand the detrimental effect of their words and deeds on the community. This resulted in the expansion of Terry’s list of defectors and inconstant party members, people who were once friends were now enemies. We went so far as to attempt a group intervention. We were accused of a holding a mock trial. The option, according to the rules of our group, was for us to write a letter from us all asking Terry to stop their hateful discord with the threat of removing them from the group and not allow them to participate any longer. That is where we are today- we asked Terry to leave the group. (He is now threatening a law suit against us for violation of his Freedom of Speech) I tried. The group tried. We discussed our dilemma with others outside the group, spouses, friends, even a couple of experts. We really, really tried. Yet, Terry would not stop the insults and hateful dialogues. So if we did all we could why do we feel so bad? We aren’t dancing in the street. We aren’t slapping high 5’s. We feel that we failed in some way.
I, especially, feel that I failed, after all my words and efforts and reading and studying and writing about camaraderie and peaceful relations I failed with Terry. When a small group of people in a community that fundamentally agrees upon the same set of values it is a sad reflection of our culture at large. When this little group could not achieve compromise how does that bode for the large community?
This week a newsperson I respect spoke to his audience after his broadcast about yet another public shooting. He said, “As children we're taught, "Words will never hurt me." But when you think about it, violence almost always begins with words. In "Twitter world," we've come to believe that our first thought is our best thought. It's past time for all of us -- presidents, politicians, reporters, citizens, all of us -- to pause to think again.”
I agree with Scott, do you? “It's time to ask whether the attack on the United States Congress Wednesday was foreseeable, predictable and, to some degree, self-inflicted.”
Thoughts lead to words, words to action, we have easy access to weapons that can do permanent harm. Is that what we want? The First Amendment allows us Freedom of Speech. Freedom of Speech also comes with Responsibility of Speech, do we think about that? When we teach our children about the Constitution, do we also teach them about the responsibility of being a citizen?
Do you recognize yourself in Terry (an amalgamation of several people)? If you do, I hope you will reflect on how your words and your version of Freedom of Speech may not have the effect you think it does.