Y’all, I need to make a confession. I am SO. TIRED. OF. PEOPLE.
Allow me to clarify: I am really tired of ignorant people. (And people who refuse to use turn signals, but that is a whole different issue.) I don’t mean ignorant as a judgmental term, but in its original definition as an adjective: “Ignorant: lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular.” I am not just tired, but also finding myself becoming very angry with total strangers and I am not sure what to do with these raging waves of emotion.
In my three-and-a-half decades on this earth, I have had the privilege of meeting and knowing people from so many different walks of life. I have lived on three coasts and in The South in my lifetime, so I have been exposed to different cultures, religions, practices, and languages just in our own country. I grew up in a middle-class, Christian, private school bubble in Memphis, Tennessee so I am thankful for experiences that have pushed me far out of my comfort zone and helped me see the world from other people’s perspectives. My experiences and diverse relationships have taught me how to empathize, not just sympathize, with people who don’t look, think, feel, or live like I do.
All that said, I can still be pretty judgmental. Over the last few weeks, I have found myself growing increasingly impatient with people who are, well, ignorant. Sometimes ignorance is chosen. Sometimes ignorance is learned. Oftentimes, ignorance comes with limited life experience and a general lack of awareness. Wherever it comes from, I can honestly say that I struggle to empathize with ignorant people.
Unfortunately, my struggle usually shows up as anger. I have taken several days off from FaceBook scrolling since the horrific shooting at Parkland High School in Miami. I just can’t handle all of the petty arguments and verbal attacks online. There shouldn’t even be a “gun debate”. Most of these issues could actually be addressed and solved with common sense. I will never change the law or politics of guns with my personal beliefs, but I can be a compassionate, responsible citizen who takes responsibility for myself and my family in the future. I don’t need to verbally assault a stranger online because their personal beliefs differ from mine. I need to clean up my own side of the street.
And then there’s the ongoing heated conversation over women’s rights, equality, and sexual safety in multiple settings. I can’t help but notice that if each and every human being treated each and every other human being the way he or she would want to be treated, we wouldn’t even be having these conversations. We don’t need harsher laws or more attorneys to prevent sexual assault or unequal pay. We need people to start treating people like people and quit acting like asses.
My anger reached a whole new level this week when I encountered a truly ignorant woman who, I believe, had no idea that the things coming out of her mouth were utterly hateful. When I encountered this woman, we were in a public place and had never met before. Shortly after introducing herself, she started talking loudly about her experience at a public event where “the gays were out”. She proceeded to describe a transgendered man who offended her with his very presence. She could not BELIEVE that man would DARE invade her space with his very existence. Then she started to tell me about her lesbian neighbors who would “get better” if they “just knew Jesus”.
That was it. I snapped. I don’t tolerate hatred well, but I experience a visceral, physical pain and rage when people who claim to be Christians spew hatred towards other people. Before this woman could finish her rant, I interrupted with as much decency as I could muster. “Some of my dearest friends and family members are gay. They are incredible people, and many of them love Jesus. I love these people.”
I had hoped this would end our conversation, but she wanted to continue arguing, saying that if she could just change the people around her, they would be better. I walked away, and let her continue talking to herself. I knew that if I stayed, I would say or do something just as hateful as the venom oozing from her mouth.
I wanted to scream at the top of my lungs, “LADY, YOU ARE THE PROBLEM! YOU ARE THE ONE CREATING SO MUCH HATE THAT SOME 500 MILLION PEOPLE AROUND THE WORLD WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH PEOPLE WHO FOLLOW JESUS! YOU SHOULD HAVE YOUR MOUTH SEWN SHUT UNTIL YOU DEAL WITH YOUR OWN BLACK HEART!” I also wanted to punch her. But I didn’t say or do these things.
Because then I would have been just like her. Just like the neo-nazis. Just like the racists and the homophobes and the sexists and the misogynists and the two-faced politicians and the hypocrites and the liars and the extremist-anythings. I risk becoming so angry in my hatred of hatred that I am always one breath away from becoming hate myself. Hatred almost always stems from the fear and ignorance of that which is not understood. Most of us fear the unknown and the unfamiliar. And in that place of fear, hatred is usually born.
I learned a several years ago that anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is a response to a deeper emotion of the soul – usually hurt, betrayal, or fear. It is easier to shout obscentities at someone than to confront them and say “You are hurting me”. It takes more vulnerability to confess hurt than it does to attack in anger. In that moment, faced with a the woman who said such horrible things, I felt hurt and afraid, so I got angry. My heart hurt for the people I love who experience hatred and injustice and judgment on a daily basis. I felt fear in the presence of someone who claims to believe one thing but speaks and acts in complete opposition of that belief system.
Before I could connect to my hurt and fear, I channeled anger and could feel my body temperature rise and my fists clench before I could take a breath and remind myself that hurt people hurt people, and this woman has obviously been hurt before.
I don’t know if I will ever encounter this woman again. I definitely think I need some time to cool down in order to approach her in a way that is more loving, courageous, and kind. My prayer is that one day, I will be able to sit down and have a conversation with her, or anyone like her. I hope to listen and learn what happened in her story that made her so afraid of people who are different than she is. I hope I can embody empathy and compassion for someone who struggles to see the world from a different perspective.
My hatred towards hatred is showing me how much anger and resentment I still carry in my own heart. If I am called to love every person I come in contact with, then I am called to love this woman. I don’t know how to do that right now, but I want to learn. I want to see her the way I see my friends in jail and prison. I may not agree with some of their choices, but I can still love them for who and where they are in life, and engage in dignified conversation when we reach an impasse in understanding.
When it comes to guns, gays, women’s issues, and other hot-topic debates, I continue to remind myself of the Serenity Prayer (often repeated in recovery and Twelve Step groups):
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
Lord, please grant me the wisdom to know the difference, and the compassion to love all of Your children.