world hug

"I will not hear it." Maya Angelou. What she is referring to is 'hate'. She refused to listen to it. I have thought about her words and they roll around in my head since I first heard her say it in the interview video from Academy of Achievement several years ago; the full quote is below. I am now in my 50's and I will be the first one to tell you I haven't always been kind or thoughtful. I have spread around some poison in my life and I deeply regret it. Regret it, but am not letting it hold me back from being better in the future. It would be nice if we could all do that, strive to be better in the future. Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson, says to Helen Hunt, "You make me want to be a better man" in the movie "As Good as it Gets". Maybe we can all strive to be better, even if it is a small bit, even if it takes us the rest of our lives. We can stay stuck in our misery or we can have our tiny space a better place than it was yesterday because of our own actions.

A big place we can start is in the media. Social media. Television. Movies. Books. We make choices every single day on what we say, watch and read. Those choices are tracked to the minutest detail and billionaires make decisions, and money, off of those choices. Our choices cause business decision makers and politicians to make decisions of their own. We are not as powerless as we think. People are listening to us. Our actions are being noticed. The question is, "Are saying and doing things we should be proud of?" You don't have to look too far to find someone saying something absurd, like, "When Mexico sends its people, they're not sending their best. They're sending people that have lots of problems. They're bringing drugs. They're bringing crime. They're rapists." Or, "We need to execute people in order to physically intimidate liberals." I am not going to dignify those comments by putting the person's name here. My point is, you can search the internet and pretty quickly find an insult to any human of any walk of life. And that statement will be broadcast and shared and commented on until the next insult or slur. All the while executives are graphing and charting how much air time it got and can they sell advertising. You can watch it on the news. Books will be written and sold that injure other humans all for the make of making a profit. We blame journalists for writing and reporting it. We criticize social media. But WE are the books. WE are the media. WE are the news program. These things reflect US. If consumers, that's us, didn't tune in they would be off the airwaves in a second. The executives are actually servants to US. They provide us with the topics we select. WE select them by tuning in and sharing. We can tell them no, just by turning them off.

So let's stop spreading meanness and hate. Let's make the charts and graphs go downward by our lack of attention to invectives and affronts to the decent character that is in each of us. In philosophy class in college a professor asked us this old question, "Does art reflect life or does life reflect art?" Our class at the time answered him collectively, "Both." The media is a form of art and it can be whatever we make of it. Let's turn off the negative faucet. Let's tune out the 'shock jockeys'. This does not mean we have to live in a bubble, fantasy world. The world is a rough place. No doubt. There are wars and disasters and struggles and poverty. I am not suggesting we pretend they don't exist. What I am suggesting is that we not add to the pessimism and gloom. You don't have to respond to 'what that jerk on FaceBook' said. There is no law requiring you to do so, in fact, if you don't respond they will probably stop sooner. You can walk away from a discussion at work when one employee is criticizing another employee. It is not required that you contribute to the demise of another employee. In fact, your boss will probably appreciate that you don't. You don't have to throw back an insult at a political town hall meeting. There is nothing that demands that every slur must be answered. In fact, many psychologists suggest ignoring bad behavior to be an effective way to stop an unwanted behavior. From Wikipedia: "Tactical ignoring, also known as planned ignoring, is a behavioral management strategy used in response to challenging behavior that seeks to receive attention or to gain a reaction from others. It is a commonly used strategy when the person displaying the attention seeking behavior would feel rewarded even by a negative response. An example of this is a cough or noise that is excessively loud in order to gain sympathy from work colleagues, loved ones and friends, which is still seen as desirable attention by the person."

When I was 25 (height of the Cold War) someone in my life responded to my statement that, "Russians are people who just want to live in peace and raise their families just like Americans." They patted me on the head and said I was 'cute and naïve'. That's right they patted me on the head like a cute puppy and dismissed my statement as naïve. Because they disagreed with me. Disagreement does give license to insult or condescend. Disagreement is really just the opening of dialogue. It is not a bad thing. Turning someone who disagrees with you into an enemy is a bad thing. Calling someone a derogatory name because they don't share your values does not help you or your cause. You shut them down and you may enjoy that silence for a little while because you think you 'won'. Their silence does not mean you won, it simply means they aren't talking to you anymore. Is that what you want? Is that going to solve the problem? As in my example above, the Cold War ended, relations were opened with Russia and many people benefitted from the open relationship. The person who told me I was naïve turned out to be wrong- Russians didn't want to drop bombs on her house.

For at least 2 centuries we have allowed those who view the world as a scary place to define and rule our societies and countries in the Western World. We have been told, "That's the way things are." "Humans are just like this and we can't change." "Humans are mean and cruel." "The strong always win." And many of us have allowed them to get away with their negative world view and believed them when they told us we were too sensitive and didn't 'understand the world'. It's time to stop believing that. It's time to say, "NO. Not all humans are mean. Not all humans do bad things. There are many great, wonderful people who do marvelous things all the time." We allow the media to fill our minds with a constant barrage of negative stories. Professor Rees and his team at University College London, along with other studies, have come out indicating that a conservative, negative view of the world is actually hard wired and is possibly genetic. That can make one give up their hands and say, "Well, that means we can never get along." However, being predisposed does not mean there cannot be change. It means two things, 1- we need to approach dialogue and problem solving from a different perspective and 2- it means that there are also humans who are predisposed to a more positive, liberal outlook. We just haven't allowed liberal people to have a say. We have relegated them to the Rose Colored Glasses Room but they have just as much right to speak and act as anyone else. We have pitted ourselves against each other instead of reaching out and understanding. We have built our culture on fear and argument. 

In memory of Maya Angelou: "I will not sit in a group of black friends and hear racial pejoratives against whites. I will not hear "honky." I will not hear "Jap." I will not hear "kike." I will not hear "greaser." I will not hear "dago." I will not hear it. As soon as I hear it, I say, "Excuse me, I have to leave. Sorry." Or if it's in my home, I say, "You have to leave. I can't have that. That is poison, and I know it is poison, and you're smearing it on me. I will not have it." Now, it's not an easy thing. And one doesn't all of a sudden sort of blossom into somebody who's courageous enough to say that. But you do start little by little. And you sit in a room, and somebody says -- if you're all white, and somebody says, "Well, the niggers -- " You may not have the courage right then, but you say, "Whooh! My goodness! It's already eight o'clock. I have to go," and leave. Little by little, you develop courage. You sit in a room, and somebody says, "Well, you know what the Japs did then, and what they're doing now." Say, "Mm-hmm! I have to go. My goodness! It's already six o'clock." Leave. Continue to build the courage. Sooner or later, you'll be able to say out loud, "Just a minute. I defend that person. I will not have gay bashing, lesbian bashing. Not in my company. I will not do it."


Deborah Baron

Deborah Baron

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