Wednesday, 14 June 2017 06:05

Celebrate, not hate all our differences

Written by  Lee Sullivan

A few months ago, I stood on the steps leading up to the sanctuary entrance at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston. There was a small collection of colorful bouquets placed in front of the bright, stonewashed wall near the archway beneath the stairs, a lone but stark reminder of the nine murders at the church in June 2015.

Last Saturday, I stood with my daughter as we watched the raucous and ridiculously fun and gaudy New Orleans Pride Parade enter the French Quarter, dance by our balcony overlooking Toulouse Street and slowly proceed toward a lavish reception and extended celebration on Bourbon Street. Music blared, people laughed, strings of colorful beads soared through the air and cheers welcomed the waving passengers on each colorful float. The official part of the parade ended an hour later, but I’m sure the party — as it always does in New Orleans — kept going until at least 2 a.m., just 24 hours before services across the nation began to commemorate the one-year anniversary of 49 murders at the Pulse gay bar, dance club and nightclub in Orlando.

When I saw the last parade stragglers wobble into the Saturday night chaos without disrupting one bit of my fun or altering in any way my admiration for New Orleans, and I remembered back to my April trip to Charleston and the complicated feelings of standing outside the beautiful old church and trying to comprehend the horrors that took place inside it, there was one nagging question I just couldn’t answer: where does all the hate come from?

I believe I am as white, Southern, heterosexual and biased in my basic core beliefs as the next person, maybe even more so. I am quick to crack at joke at someone else’s misfortune, prone to judge others based on just a few of their actions or comments, and adamant — perhaps sometimes beyond reasonable limits — in defending my point of view. I was raised to respect others and reminded often that you learn more by listening than trying to shout down those who disagree with you.

I am not by any means devout in attending church services, embracing instead the philosophy that I harbor no ill will toward anyone and don’t expect any to arise unless provoked. First do no harm is, to me, more than just a professional motto for doctors.

I assume the best of people until I’m shown differently, but once that happens they have a steep hill to climb to ever regain my trust. I try to treat people fairly and honestly, not just out of a sense of decency, but for the comfort of being able to go places and not be concerned about who I might run into along the way.

I’m absolutely no saint, and while the twisting and turning evolution into middle age me has stayed within what I consider to be fun but pretty firm boundaries, I don’t limit my interactions to only those who see the world as I do. I have good friends, life-long friends, who disagree with me on just about every serious topic imaginable. That doesn’t define our friendships. In fact, I believe it makes them stronger.

And maybe, it occurs to me, that could be part of the answer.

Maybe the hate that festers up in our modern society — the kind of deep-seeded, unhinged emotion that could motivate someone to target and perpetrate the execution of nine black people kneeling to pray, or dozens of homosexuals dancing at a club — is not fueled by exposure to those with different lives and lifestyles, but by too much time spent in a closed circle of people who always see things through a common lens.

Maybe more people should stand outside that solemn church and see where their thoughts take them. Maybe more people should watch a group much different from themselves harmlessly bask in a celebration of each other.

Maybe that would help everyone realize that, for the sake of us all, hate simply cannot win.

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