I've written earlier about bigotry, racism, intolerance, and growing up in the segregated South, so you'd think nothing could surprise me any more. And at some level I am not surprised at recent events, but I am angered.
The recent murder of Dr. George Tiller during worship services at his church in Wichita; the murder of 23-year-old soldier William Long outside a recruiting office in Little Rock; and the murder last week of Tyrone Johns as he courteously opened the door for his assassin at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington DC, are all appalling indicators of the intolerance that afflicts this nation in the 21st century.
All three of these men were going about their lives in locations where they had a reasonable expectation of safety. All three have left behind people who loved them, people who needed them, people who admired and respected them. Mr. Johns' 11-year-old son referred to his dad as "my hero." And yet... And yet, three bigoted, small-minded, intolerant, and, yes, ignorant men acted as judge, jury, and executioner.
How have we become a nation of haters? When did we leave the path of respect and decency and veer onto a side road where hatred and ideology became the guiding forces? Why do so many people spew vitriol and intolerance against people who think differently? Why are there blogs and religions and websites dedicated to inciting people to violence? I know that most of these are fringe groups, but why do we allow them to continue? Why haven't we risen up in protest? Why do we read them, post to them, discuss them? Why, when we have a man in the White House who attempts to promote consensus and inclusiveness, do so many of us ridicule these methods? Even if you don't like the President, why does anyone think that partisan bickering and the continuation of "my way or the highway" attitudes is preferable to attempts to find common ground, or even to disagreeing in an agreeable manner?
One of my daughters-in-law and I had a recent exchange on Facebook regarding an issue that we view differently. We both have strong, well-thought-out feelings, and do not agree on several issues. But we don't hate each other! We agree on those things that we can and respectfully disagree on the others. We have mutual love and respect, and we each trust that the other is thoughtful and sincere about her opinions. Why is that so hard?
I'm a female heterosexual Christian. One of my dearest friends is Buddhist, my life's partner is an atheist, and one of my sons is gay. All of these men have taught me tolerance simply because I was willing to listen. I have learned that there is value in respecting all life, all manner of religious or philosophical beliefs, all manner of consensual sexual expression.
I am not so naive that I think intolerance, or even its violent expression, is new. I know that intolerance and violence have been the hallmarks of our nation for much of its existence. You have only to look at our treatment of Native Americans, Blacks, Irish, Italians, Chinese, Japanese across the years. But as a nation we have learned; why have we not learned as individuals? Why are so afraid of those who are different, who have different beliefs, different politics, different values, different ideas?