Monday, February 28, 2011
Do Bigots Deserve Compassion?
I really don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about people who spend heaps of time, energy, and millions of dollars working to ensure that a segment of the population doesn’t have the same basic civil rights as everyone else. Or major religious figures that say gay marriage is insidious and dangerous.
The only “in” I can manage to muster up is that those people looking to impede or take away my civil liberties are doing so with the same desire to be happy that I have. What’s behind their actions may be fear, bigotry, an intense reaction against change, and misinterpreted religious dogma, but beneath all of that is the underlying desire for happiness that those of us on the other side want as well.
Strange, isn’t it?
It’s hard to fully realize this when the hatred seems so arbitrary and personal. And really, really mean.
I often get incensed by all the ways that homophobia rears it’s ugly head, especially now as attitudes towards lgbt rights seem to be gradually shifting in this country. But it doesn’t make sense to let myself get consumed by resentment, anger and aversion and allow that to guide my actions.
A lot of political activists of all stripes feel differently, and anger is often their driving force. To be truly effective for any cause, there needs to be something operating besides outrage. Anger can absolutely be a great motivator, but historically the people that are revered the most today and had the greatest impact on social change acted peacefully. Think Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks.
It’s important to be mindful of what’s fueling our actions, not matter what we’re doing or how noble a cause we appear to be fighting for. I see a lot of displaced rage and hostility that gets acted out under the guise of “passion” or “activism” when it’s really just as poisonous as the venom being spewed by bigots. As hard as it sounds, we can be more effective when we stop viewing the world in terms of "us" against "them."
I guess I don’t have to feel guilty if I don’t have compassion for everyone, everywhere, all the time. I struggle with this often but I just try to work with it the best way I can.
So just for the record, I absolutely believe that everyone without exception deserves compassion, even those that act despicably.
What I was trying to convey is that it isn't always easy for me to remember this, and that I don't always feel so compassionately towards people like Fred Phelps and his ilk.
When I consider that people working against the civil rights of others are doing so out of a sincere desire to be happy, just like the rest of us, it helps make this a little less personal and reminds me that all people need to be understood from a wider perspective.