From mind-boggling conspiracy theories to the Capitol riot, they have a lot to answer for.
The last 12 months haven’t been the best, have they? I mean, we saw the world consumed by a pandemic. We witnessed the gruesome death of George Floyd. We watched as the number of unemployed skyrocketed. We presided over a tenuous U.S. election.
And, then, in the wee hours of 2021, we looked on as the U.S. Capitol was overrun by a violent mob, which had been all but instructed to do so by their then-president.
The last year has been a stressful time for many of us, especially between the election and inauguration day. We were glued to our TVs and phones, and not just because we literally had nothing else to do. It felt like the United States was teetering on a knife’s edge. When things finally snapped on January 6, we were perhaps more outraged than surprised. The months leading up to this day had been filled with lies and vitriol, specifically meant to incite the kind of violence that occurred.
Putting aside the obvious failure of law enforcement agencies to predict what absolutely everyone else saw coming, who do you blame for this attack on democracy? Does the blame lie squarely on the former president’s shoulders? Or, is the Republican Party also to blame? After all, they have supported the former president throughout this ordeal. Or, do we blame all Republicans? They did vote for the former president, as well as the rest of the Republican Party. Aren’t they really to blame for all this madness?
And isn’t it shocking how all that’s happened in the last 12 months hasn’t been enough to change Republicans’ minds? Despite the former president trying to steal the election and directing a violent mob toward other elected officials, including his own vice president, people still support him. Some even talk about him like he’s a savior who will one day return the United States to its former glory.
Don’t you just want to knock some sense into these people? The problem is, they seem so disconnected from reality that it’s hard to know where to begin. This can make true dialogue feel impossible.
And yet, what other method do we have of creating mutual understanding? What other tool shines a light on what matters most to each of us? How do we expect anyone’s mind to ever change if no one is willing to talk? How can we move forward without dialogue?
Perhaps your instincts are telling you to point a finger at Republicans and demand they clean up this mess. If they are, I’m certain you’re not alone. But, who we blame isn’t all that matters. We also need to ask, who is responsible?
For example, you’re obviously not to blame for the pandemic. You didn’t do anything to deserve the burden it’s placed on you or your family. Yet, you’re still responsible for managing your schoolwork, your job, your relationships, your home, and everything else while the pandemic is raging. Just because you’re not to blame doesn’t mean you get to toss your responsibilities aside.
So, yes, we can point our fingers at the people we think caused the problem, but the fact is, if we’re not willing to take on the responsibility of addressing it, why should anyone else?
Fractures this deep don’t fix themselves. If you’re waiting for the other side to simply fall in line with your thinking or be the first to extend the olive branch, you’re going to be waiting a mighty long time and you’re going to be very unhappy while you do.
This is why we must find a path that doesn’t simply result in more anger and hatred. Besides, aren’t you tired of it? Haven’t you already felt enough anger and hate to last a lifetime? And it’s not even making anything better, is it? So, why do you continue to be angry and hateful when it doesn’t help and, in all probability, just makes things worse?
We need another solution. One that follows in the footsteps of people who already made real changes in our world.
How things change
For better or worse, change comes slowly. People’s minds aren’t like switches. They’re not easily changed, even when presented with good evidence. This might make you angry, but consider the last time someone from the “other side” convinced you that you were wrong? I’m guessing this doesn’t happen too frequently. You might not even listen to them at all.
Yes, you might think they see the world completely backward and therefore have nothing of value to say, but could that really be true? You have much more in common with these people than you want to admit— they have families, watch TV, pay taxes, spend time with friends, enjoy food, love sports, worry about money. These people are not so different from you and me. Could they really be wrong about everything?
No, that would make them tremendous failures, which obviously, they are not.
But, maybe you think they’re wrong from a moral perspective. Perhaps you think they have the wrong values. Maybe you’re right in some cases. Maybe you’re wrong in others. But, if you think you’ve got perfect values, that’s being a bit arrogant, don’t you think?
In any case, if we aren’t all aligned in our thinking, that’s a failure of communication — a failure of persuasion and education. How could it be any more complicated than that? We’re all made by the societies in which we live. None of us choose the beliefs and values we hold — they’re inculcated into us. If some of us hold bad values or beliefs, that’s a failure of society. And nothing will change until we address the root of the problem.
So, what can we do? How can we cause change?
We can start by looking to some historical examples for guidance. After all, people who lived not so long ago made massive strides against racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination.
In the United States, Martin Luther King Jr. played a major role in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. King preached that it was love, not hate, and nonviolence, not violence, that would bring about positive change:
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy…Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Throughout this time, King was inspired to protest nonviolently by other great figures — Mahatma Gandhi and Rosa Parks.
In the first half of the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi led campaigns in India to ease poverty, increase women’s rights, end discrimination, and ultimately, gain Indian independence from British rule. Gandhi famously led the Salt March in 1930, which spanned 24 days and 240 miles. The Salt March was a nonviolent protest against the British salt monopoly. Gandhi was eventually arrested for breaking the salt laws and this spurred acts of civil disobedience against those laws across India.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
The nonviolent protests were a powerful symbol. So, when the British used extreme force against the peaceful protestors this backfired on them. Not only did the violence against the Indian people simply cause more protests, but it also garnered international attention.
Rosa Parks is another example of a peaceful protestor. In 1955, she refused to follow the direction of the bus driver to vacate her seat so that a white person could sit on a crowded bus. She was arrested as a result. Although this was a simple act of defiance, it eventually led to the federal ruling that bus segregation is unconstitutional.
Parks was 42 years old at the time of her arrest and despite having lived four decades under oppressive laws, she still knew that more hate wasn’t the answer. She said:
“It is better to teach or live equality and love … than to have hatred and prejudice.” ~ Rosa Parks
What can we learn from these historical figures?
King, Gandhi, and Parks experienced intense oppression for much of their lives. The situations they faced were close to hopeless. It’s almost unbelievable to think that people still alive today were exposed to laws so overtly racist and harmful to specific groups of people.
A lot has changed since then, and we owe this change to people who understood the counterproductive force of anger and hate. During the Salt March in India, even as British soldiers attacked peaceful protestors with steal lathis (rods) — knocking them unconscious, cracking their skulls, and breaking their shoulders — the protestors did nothing to protect themselves. They did not resist.
It was this unbelievable courage and tenacity that sparked change. The brutality and injustice were laid bare for all to see. And the world noticed.
What can we take from these stories? What can we learn from the people involved in fundamental societal shifts? How can we use those strategies today to help move the world forward?
I think it comes down to what Martin Luther King Jr. so aptly described above. When we use violence against violence and hate against hate, we stop being the heroes of the story. When we use violence and hate against others, we become the villains. And when everyone appears to be a villain, it’s difficult to discern who is in the right.
In the United States, Republicans and Democrats are increasingly at each other’s throats. Both sides are trying to tear down the other with violence and hatred. But this just results in people latching onto their beliefs even more tightly, leading to more anger, violence, and polarization. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to step out of.
What should you do, instead? Stop thinking that it’s your job to attack the other side, to try to make them look foolish or hypocritical. When you attack others, physically or verbally, you are doing what the British did to the Indians nearly 100 years ago — you are beating people down in a futile attempt to control them.
So, while your snarky comments might make you feel good in the moment, each time you make them you pull at a loose end of the fabric of society. Keep pulling and that fabric will unravel.
Each of us needs to stop being the villains of the story. Instead, we need to follow in the footsteps of the heroes who came before us and live by their example. If we do, we’ll finally be able to sit down with people with whom we disagree and have a productive conversation. It probably won’t go as expected, and minds won’t immediately change, but that’s just how this works. Minds aren’t changed in a day or with one conversation.
So, the next time you’re confronted by a person who doesn’t hold your viewpoint, consider extending an olive branch instead of your middle finger. Be the hero rather than the villain.
“Each person must live their life as a model for others.” ~ Rosa Parks
Thanks for reading!