Though this treatise will invoke the name of Mel Gibson, it is not about Mr. Gibson; it is about hatred and whether or not we can rehabilitate the hearts and minds of those that hate.
People hate for all sorts of reasons, or they say they do. The poor loathe the rich, though they wish to be them. The affluent can't bear the sight of the destitute. They fear becoming impoverished themselves and loosing the luxuries that are their life. Blacks detest whites; Hispanics are becoming a close second. No one loves the oppressor or the aspiring that seem to be rising above the fray. Whites find Blacks objectionable. I suspect color is their concern. The natural born despise the immigrants; they are frightened that these “low-lives” will take their jobs. The émigré abhor hypocritical employers that hire them. Many migrants are offered jobs they take. Upon completing their work, they are paid with threats. Supervisors often say they will turn these laborers into the Immigration and Naturalization Services if need be.
In truth, none of these individuals or groups hates the other. They merely do not know or understand what is unfamiliar or different. They are apprehensive when confronted with what they think might hurt them. Their anxiety causes them to interpret the stranger through a clouded filter. Rather than communicate what they are truly feeling they lash out. Instead of asking to understand the unknown, they assume. People easily become consumed with what they do not comprehend. They forget what they could know.
“Hate” is an expression of fear and pain. We loathe what is foreign or unfamiliar to us. We are angst-driven when we do not appreciate. Humans disdain the possibility of harm; any that might impose pain are reviled. However, those we love are special. We know all their faults and find these endearing or at least tolerable. Those we know are not our enemies; nor are they evil. All the wrongs in the world are not imposed upon our friends or our family. Familiars are our treasures. They tame us and we tame them.
I believe hate is a habit. We learn it when we are very, very, very young, before we understand that there are other possibilities. In the last few days, prompted by the arrest and anti-Semantic antics of Mel Gibson I have heard many discussions of habits and whether a person can fully recover from an addiction. None was more interesting to me than an interview by Journalist Soledad O’Brien of Cable News Network.
Ms. O‘Brien asked marketing specialist, Laura Ries of Mel Gibson’s future. Is this admitted alcoholic hurt by his actions? Can he return and be salable? As the verbal exchange ensued, there was discussion of the Gibson apology. Was it adequate or sincere? Talk of his ensuing therapy filled the thread. All that was well and good; however, for me, Ms. O’Brien offered what was most powerful. She asked, “Can we rehabilitate hate?” She then stated, “Rehab can't cure the anti-Semitism, and can't cure the nasty thing he said to the female deputy, right?” Ms. Ries answered “No.” She thought nothing could be done to eliminate what I believe is the core issue.
Some say, “Once an addict, always an addict,” my experience differs. I do think change is a challenge and does not come easily. Nevertheless, I think it does come if given a chance. I have witnessed it in my own life and I trust that others have as well. We all can recount stories of a time when we thought another was very unpleasant. Then, when we got to know the person; they became our friend. Intimate knowledge informed our perception. An enemy was now an intimate. all else changed.
I wish to provide a parable that relates, one told by Stanley Weintraub and shared in a book, “Silent Night: The Story of The World War I Christmas Truce. The story is true. It is one of peace; however, it begins as many sagas do during times of strife. It is the tale of two enemies. This incident took place during the Christmas season, in the middle of a war, World War I. Weintraub writes
At Christmas 1914 there took place in some parts of the British line what is still regarded by many as the most remarkable incident of the War — an unofficial truce.
Mr. Weintraub explains in an interview,
In part, the truce came about as brief truces in earlier wars occurred — as a respite to bury the dead. This was arranged for first light on Christmas Day. The joint ceremonies were especially moving. However, they jointly realized that by clearing No Man's Land of its grisly dead, they had created a space to fraternize, and even to play football. The Germans held more formal religious marking of Christmas than did the other side. But it was football that was the working-class religion. in sharing food, smokes, and play, each side de-demonized the other (if I can coin such a word).
The inscription continues,
During the winter, it was not unusual for little groups of men to gather in a front trench, and there hold impromptu concerts, singing patriotic songs. The Germans, too, did much the same, and on calm evenings the songs from one line floated to the trenches of the other side, and were received with applause, and sometimes with calls for an encore.”
Once the battle resumed the troops realized, they could not kill their rivals. The troops were no longer foes. They had become known entities, real people. With hearts and souls. They were no long bodies without blood and feelings; these were men no different than those trying to kill them. After, the truce and all that it involved, soldiers on each side saw their enemy and understood, he is as I am. Fear fled; hearts filled. These British and Germans troops were no longer adversaries; they had become allies.
In order for us human beings to commit ourselves personally to the inhumanity of war, we find it necessary first to dehumanize our opponents, which is in itself a violation of the beliefs of all religions. Once we characterize our adversaries as beyond the scope of God's mercy and grace, their lives lose all value.
~ Jimmy Carter, Former President of the United States
I think this tale is telling; it illustrates what few imagine as they profess policy. Silent Night addresses hatred on a human level and confounds the practical. This narrative honors the philosophy I think is vital; when we diminish and dismiss the dignity of a man, woman, or child, when we relegate the life of a living being to that of an object then we separate ourselves from reality. We create our own fiction. We allow ourselves to hate when we react and posture. When we choose to believe that our neighbor is our enemy or evil, we enable murder. If we were to recognize our fellow man is our mirror, even our Muse everything would change. Admittedly, change is a challenge.
Therefore, I propose that we learn from the history that is too well hidden. Might we see the story of Silent Night as our guide? Perchance, if we adopted a policy of acquaintanceship we would progress. Genuine peace would be our reward.
I anticipate the claims. “My actions will not affect others.” Alternatively, “The task is too broad.” I have already begun, “Some of my best friends are.” However, these assertions take me back to the talk of Mel Gibson.
I feel certain, as a newborn baby, Mel knew nothing of revulsion. He was unaware of religion or stereotypes. This blank slate learned. After instruction, he intentionally never befriended a Jewish person. if he did accidentally, his preconceived notion ruled. Disdain for Jews dominated his thoughts. He intentionally never allowed himself to feel close to one of this religion, race, ethnicity, or creed. He maintained a personal and professional distance. However, likely, even for Mel, one or two Jews may have slipped through the cracks of his loathing. Such an odd occurrence would be perfect, for it would allow this anti-Semite to say, and to believe that, some of his best friends were, and they may have actually been. However, as a whole the man differentiated between those he knew personally and those he accepted to be, as he always believed them to be.
What I put forth is that we consistently open our minds and our hearts, not only to those that enter our sphere, but to all. I ask to put down our arms and put them out instead. When there is conflict, when world leaders, family patriarchs, friends, or fellow workers are feeling ready for a feud they require themselves to sit and have a meal with those that think differently than they do. People ready to pounce must instead purposely choose to live in close proximity with their “enemy” and their enemies’ entire clan for a week or more.
What a cruel thing is war: to separate and destroy families and friends, and mar the purest joys and happiness God has granted us in this world; to fill our hearts with hatred instead of love for our neighbors, and to devastate the fair face of this beautiful world.
~ Robert E. Lee, Civil War General, in a letter to his wife, 1864
Each individual must speak frequently with their supposed adversaries, and learn from and of the other. If we do this what might happen? Perhaps if we knew one another intimately we would be able to see, to feel, to empathize, and relate. Perchance, we would discover a friend amongst our foes. I wonder; if we were truly open to discovery, to dialogue, to dining and living with our antagonist might we find a friend or at least not someone we are ready to kill?
I trust that you, or I can blame the other and state that I am willing; yet, they are not. I believe someone must begin and believe, if not us who. The other may not be receptive, initially. I have experienced that. However, I find in my own life if I do not accept and allow my fears and feelings of woe to guide me, much is not as I expected to be. I imagine that each of us has experienced what a smile can create. As you approach a grumpy or a distracted soul, smile and watch what happens. Even a gentle and unobtrusive grin opens doors and windows. Imagine what genuine dialogue might do.
I ask you dear reader to consider, would there be war if we truly knew our neighbors? If we were to experience our enemies as allies, if we saw and treated our adversaries as human rather than foreigners would we be able to kill them. If they were given the opportunity to know us as we are, would they wish to harm us? I think not.
Communication and communing might seem a chore too complex too complete. However, I think we must begin; we must try and see what we can do. The competitive spirit of centuries past has not helped; it has hindered attempts towards concord. We witnessed the tale of a World War I truce; we can know peace is a possibility. Is it not preferable to bombs? I think we would all agree destruction benefits no one, other than those that produce the bombs.
Lets us imagine and originate a world where we work together as one, where fear and loathing are not the overriding principles. Lets us conceive of and achieve a global village where greed is not greater than the sense of equality. I request rather than fighting against nameless faces, we meet our rivals in their homes and in ours. I think society be better served if we would invest in knowing, if we become acquainted with the anonymous persons we now call aliens. Perhaps, war will become whimsy, never be true again if we sincerely endeavor to eliminate the concepts of enemy and evil. I invite us all to join in peace to work as one, united. Some may smile, hold hands, and and sing Kum-by-yah; others will softly hum the words of Silent Night.
There are those playing Guns and Roses, Civil War. I was among these and perchance I still am.
"What we've got here is failure to communicate.
Some men you just can't reach...
So, you get what we had here last week,
which is the way he wants it!
Well, he gets it!
N' I don't like it any more than you men." *
Look at your young men fighting
Look at your women crying
Look at your young men dying
The way they've always done before
Look at the hate we're breeding
Look at the fear we're feeding
Look at the lives we're leading
The way we've always done before
My hands are tied
The billions shift from side to side
And the wars go on with brainwashed pride
For the love of God and our human rights
And all these things are swept aside
By bloody hands time can't deny
And are washed away by your genocide
And history hides the lies of our civil wars
D'you wear a black armband
When they shot the man
Who said, "Peace could last forever"
I did; I do. I trust it begins with me.
References for Review and Reflection . . .
• “Passion of Christ”
• The Protocols of Mel Gibson, By Katha Pollitt. The Nation. March 11, 2004 (March 29, 2004 issue)
• Hate is learned and can be "unlearned," By Caryl M. Stern-LaRosa. Anti-Defamation League.
• Soledad O’Brien of Cable News Network
• Mel Gibson's Statement, By The Associated Press. Tuesday, August 1, 2006
• Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce, By Stanley Weintraub.
• German and British front-line soldiers sang carols, exchanged gifts, and . . . Status: True. Urban Legends Reference Pages. Snopes.com. 24 December 2003
• Proposals Abound for Mel Gibson Healing, By Jocelyn Noveck. Associated Press National Writer. SFGate. Friday, August 4, 2006
• American Morning Transcripts. Cable News Network. August 1, 2006
• Stanley Weintraub
• Christmas on the Battlefield, The 1914 Christmas Truce. Q&A by Kathryn Jean Lopez. National Review Online. December 21, 2002
• Divine Words, A missive from the main character of The Passion to director Mel Gibson. By Tony Hendra. The American Prospect. March 2, 2004
• Mel Gibson link to Aussie anti-Semitic group, Lincoln Wright. Herald Sun. August 06, 2006