As I reflect on my childhood, I am amazed that I survived. I think it is a miracle that any of us survive childhood. I made several decisions that could have led to the end of life for me. They were all stupid decisions. Allow me to share some examples.
While out hunting with some friends with bow and arrow (real arrows) we decided it would be a clever idea to fire some arrows straight up and see how close they would land to us. Stupid. We loved to go canoeing on the Ohio River and ride the wakes off the barges on the river. None of us could swim and we didn’t have any life jackets. Stupid. The list could go on but those two examples are embarrassing enough to make my point.
They don’t always, but stupid decisions can get you hurt. We see and are aware when someone gets hurt, but we rarely take a step back to assess the cause of the injury and the ensuing drama. We are an emotionally reactionary culture and seem to have difficulty thinking things through. We expect immediate, thoughtless, deeply emotional responses filled with sympathy for the person or persons injured and deep disgust for the terrible person who inflected the pain. If one fails to respond in this manner, he or she is labeled a hate filled, less than human being.
In the past few days the press and Facebook have been about very little other than the tragic death of a young woman demonstrator in Charlottesville, North Carolina. She was killed by a young man believed to be a Neo Nazi. Dozens of my clergy friends have posted long, involved posts on Facebook denouncing this horrible tragedy and denouncing the hateful person or people who killed her. I have not bothered to do so since I think that such a response is the rational response from any thinking person and there is no need for me to heap more words on top of the huge pile of statements already posted. Enough is enough and I really don’t need to be heard from.
What I haven’t seen is any rational discussion as to why this woman’s death occurred and how it might have been avoided. Let me be blunt and clear (and unpopular). This woman’s death was not only sad, it was the result of some stupid, and avoidable, decisions.
Let’s take a step back to the time before the Neo Nazis and skin heads took to the streets in Charlottesville to march for their cause of racism and white supremacy. The word gets out and I, an anti-racist kind of guy hears about it. The decision-making process begins. Here is a good idea. Me and a bunch of my friends and other right thinkers will go down there and confront those bigots and get them straightened out. Since many of the demonstrators will be young, stupid (they are racists) men who have a history of violence, short tempers and are most likely armed, we will go confront them and we’ll take some baseball bats and wear helmets. One of two outcomes are predictable. 1. They will be so impressed with us and what we have to say, they will repent of their racism on the spot. 2. There will be a massive ass-kicking and we will get the crap beat out of us. Gee, I wonder which is most likely to happen.
Let’s think again. The word gets out that some Neo Nazi white supremacists are going to demonstrate in Charlottesville. Since they stand for everything I am against but are protected by free speech, how will I react? I decide to ignore them. By ignoring them, I will help draw less attention to their already unpopular cause and guarantee them even less news coverage than if counter protesters showed up. They would hold their demonstration, no body much would notice it, they would gain no new followers and they would just go crawl back into the holes they crawled out of. End of story
But no! Since we have become an emotion driven, thoughtless culture, we make the thoughtless (stupid), emotion driven choice of confrontation and people get hurt and a woman gets killed. And then we are appalled. We are appalled by the completely predictable actions and reactions of the people involved instead of being appalled at the stupidity of our decisions. To do that takes too much time and too much thought. We are programmed for an immediate, emotional response.
I think racism is sad, stupid and appalling. I think racists holding a rally in favor of racism is a disgusting but protected right. All speech, including hate speech, is a right in America. I also have the right not to listen to it. I think the counter demonstrators also have the right to assemble. But just because it is a right doesn’t mean it is a good idea. Sometimes it is a stupid idea. And stupid decisions can get you hurt. I am profoundly sorry that young woman died and others were hurt in the confrontation. I am also sorry they decided to pick that particular fight.