By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
There are plenty of sad things that happened in the past two years. But I think this may be one of the saddest. According to an article in Scientific American magazine, studies done last year show that an increasing number of Americans hold a “basic abhorrence for their opponents.”
The wording of that quote reached out and slapped me mid-sentence. There is nothing “basic” about the feeling of abhorrence. It’s as intense as it gets. Published in the journal Science and conducted by 15 prominent researchers located all over the country, these findings show that we don’t just disagree with each other like we used to. We hate. We loathe. It’s not just sad, it’s scary.
I wish I could say I’m unaffected. But I’ve felt it, too. The last two election seasons riled me up in ways I’d never felt before. I’ve yelled at the TV more times than I’d like to admit. I’ve read articles out loud to Tom just so he could join me in my outrage. I’ve rolled my eyes at campaign commercials. I’ve muttered the word “idiots” under my breath.
But last week I read something that made me realize I can’t let myself become another cog in a growing hate machine. What I read is an incredibly insightful column by an Anglican priest and author named Tish Harrison Warren, who writes about faith and public discourse. As she examined just how deep and wide our disgust with other Americans has grown, she wrote this undeniable truth:
“…We cannot flourish as individuals or as a society if we cast all those who differ from us as moral monsters.”
Let that one sink in for a minute.
Why is it so easy to assume that other people are moral monsters? Because monsters are easy to hate. Easy to fear. Easy to think of as not quite human. Easy to justify doing anything to destroy them.
Tish followed up her point about “moral monsters” with this one, which I find equally convicting: “Assuming the worst about everyone else ultimately makes us become the worst versions of ourselves.”
Wow. And yikes.
So, what’s a person with opinions and strong emotions to do? How do we disagree without turning the other side into a mythical evil force to be conquered?
Warren’s advice helped me figure out one thing I can do. I keep these two facts in my mind and repeat them when I feel the urge to mentally name-call someone. Here it is: “This person is made in the image of God, just like me. We are all limited human beings who can sometimes be deceived or confused.”
It’s hard to “abhor” someone when the two of us have these two big facts in common.
Feel free to borrow those lines or craft one of your own. Say it in your own head often. Not only does it help when watching or reading the news, it also works when someone cuts you off in traffic. It helps you resist the itch to hurl something out on social media. It diffuses the tension. Eases the urge to be dismissive or mean-spirited, even if you’re only doing it in your head.
In fact, getting this growing hostility out of our own heads may be one of the best things we can do for ourselves and the entire country.