The small and almost silent group of religious leaders, politicians, authors, editors, social critics, teachers, physicians and others who seek to define themselves and live by a compassionate faith, a social conscience, and who work for a progressive approach to solving our massive problems in this country, swim against a raging current of resistance. It comes from those who disdain unity, who are terrified of diversity, who hate government unless it works only to their advantage, who care nothing about preserving a social fabric that holds all of us in community. The struggle against this forceful cultural current is exhausting, expensive, and often defeating. No one will be surprised if those fighting to move against it grow tired and sometimes collapse in shallow waters.
Bullies flourish in this environment and are always the last to go down. They prey on the defenseless, those smaller, those less powerful, those with gentle souls who have no lust for battle or conflict.
We have become a nation of tiresome bullies.
Abraham Maslow, the famed American psychologist, taught that people who threaten, who find pleasure in humiliating others, who dominate and hurt people, who cruelly taunt and reject others, become what he called “forces for the creation of psychopathology.” Which is another way of saying they create an atmosphere for mental illness and emotional dysfunction.
We see this today. The blowhard radio and television pundits who endlessly, angrily, recklessly attack the President, belittle women, brush off the poor and disenfranchised, mock gays and browbeat minorities—are pathological bullies who fill society with a toxic atmosphere of strife, bitterness, hate and bigotry. Their petty and shameless railing against those they don’t agree with, people they dislike for whatever fear-filled or childish reasons exposes a raw underside in them. They behave this way out their own serious emotional pathology. And of course, they do it for money, too; which is a part of their sickness.
That we continue to not only tolerate but support this ruined atmosphere in our country says something about our resolve as a people. Why do we not speak out more in opposition to these bullies? Why are there large sections of the country who applaud this insanity, give money to it, laugh at the national betrayal of these tormentors? How do people get elected to Congress who display this abhorrent behavior? Over and over again? Why do racketeers in suits on Wall Street get to be American heroes that everyone wants to emulate? Why are wretchedly phony ministers dripping with self-importance and arrogant certainty followed by throngs of adoring converts?
Why don't we want better than this?
In 2005 the movie “Crash” received the Academy Award for Best Picture. It is a film that still has a valuable lesson for our society. Perhaps more so today than ever.
Set in modern day Los Angeles it tells brief stories of a racially and socially diverse set of characters who seem to have nothing in common except their own prejudices and fears of each other. In one of many telling scenes District Attorney Rick Cabot (Brendan Fraser) who is in a tight campaign to get re-elected discovers his car has been stolen. Later, after hearing two black guys did the crime, he’s talking with his wife (Sandra Bullock) and one of his staff about the political implications of this.
Cabot says, “Fuck! Why do these guys have to be black? I mean, why? No matter how we spin this thing, I’m either gonna lose the black vote or I’m gonna lose the law and order vote!” His wife Karen says, “You know, I think you’re worrying too much. You have a lot of support in the black community.”
Cabot thinks a minute and says, “All right. If we can’t duck this thing, we’re gonna have to neutralize it. What we need is a picture of me pinning a medal on a black man. Bruce, what about the fire fighter, the one that saved the camp or something.” The staffer Bruce says, “He’s Iraqi.” Cabot, shocked says, “He’s Iraqi? Well, he looks black.”
Bruce says, “He’s dark skinned, sir, but he’s Iraqi. His name’s Saddam Hassif.”
Sarcastically, Cabot responds, “Saddam? His name’s Saddam? Oh, that’s real good, Bruce. Yeah, I’m gonna pin a medal on an Iraqi named Saddam. Give yourself a raise, will you?”
And so goes this kind of racial and social conflict in all of the individuals and couples involved in the movie. What they don’t realize is that they all have the very same kinds of needs and cares, loving relationships and tender moments in their own private lives. And it is not until they crash into one another in sometimes frightening accidents of fate that they begin to see it is the humanness they share that transcends their various racial and social differences.
That is what we are missing today. We tend to only see one another through our prejudices, fears, suspicions, and hate. We don’t see President Obama as a loving husband and father worried about the safety of his family and the vast needs of the country. We don’t see the poor truly trying to find work or desperately hoping for a break. We don’t see Latino parents loving their children so much they risk everything to bring them here for a better life. We don’t see gay couples carrying on all the same duties of other couples, struggling to be responsible partners showing love and respect for each other. We don’t see the black teen committed to his school work, volunteering in his community, dedicated to his church youth group. We fail to see the white family open to their Asian neighbors next door, car pooling their kids, being kind and respectful to each other.
We don’t see any of that. We just see what the haters tell us to see. We see from some dark unhealthy place in our spirit. We see what our fears concoct. We see not with our heart or our soul but from some neurotic neediness or dysfunction we have nurtured. You can’t expect a society declining in compassion and decency, in thoughtfulness and respect, in open mindedness and acceptance, to produce quality citizens in a thriving culture of mutual cooperation.
If only we could realize before it's too late the weakness and ruin of force and aggression, of intolerance and hate, of malice and greed. What we so need now is to see and affirm the power of love, to harness the strength of our shared humanness, and to learn to appreciate one another in all of our common needs and struggles whatever race we are or religion we follow or don’t follow or whichever social class we belong to.
I want to keep hoping and fighting for a better society. I want to keep believing the best within us will prevail over the worst.
Novelist Mary E. Pearson has said, “Sometimes there’s not a better way. Sometimes there’s only the hard way.”
That seems to be what faces us now. I hope as a society we don’t grow tired and collapse in the shallow waters.
© 2013 Timothy Moody