Do You Feel Better Now? Spoiler Alert : I Know You Don’t, Not Really

An open letter to those who shout hatred at strangers.

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Photo by Armin Lotfi on Unsplash

I don’t know the specifics of your life experiences. I don’t know the particulars of your circumstances growing up, the ideas and ideologies you were exposed to, the behaviors you had modeled for you. I don’t know the details of your current situation, what stresses or anxieties you might be facing. But I do know that your yelling has very, very little to do with me. All the epithets and anger and accusations are much more about your own fears and feelings of powerless than the stranger you are aiming them at.

Anxiety is understandable, even anger and fear. Fear of the unknown is natural and normal, we all feel it when confronted with something we don’t understand. And we are living in a world filled with stresses, struggles, inequalities, and crises. It’s no small wonder people are feeling exhausted and frustrated. But lashing out at other people, villainizing and blaming those you perceive as different, does about as much to genuinely solve your troubles as honking your horn does to break up traffic jams.

I don’t know if you truly believe shouting insults and condemnations and threats will actually change or get rid of the people you target. Maybe you do. Maybe you’ve bought into the action movie formula implying every scenario breaks down into heroes and villains. And if you’re tough enough, if you stand up and fight, as the hero you are fated to win out in the end.

Maybe you don’t see the red baseball caps as the mainstream white hoods they truly are, so many who wear them do not seem to. Regardless of whatever ideology is attached to them maybe you see the mask they, and every other symbolic shroud, offer as some form of superhero secret identity. Instead of the smoke-screen permission slip to behave unforgivably they inevitably become warped into.

You clearly see yourself as the hero and have cast your target as a villain. The hero part isn’t hard to understand, we’re all the stars of our own personal stories. And it certainly seems easier if all your troubles and all your fears are the fault of other people, especially other people. Someone you can point at, call out, and attack. Maybe if you can make them hang their heads in shame and slink away the might take all your troubles and fears with them.

In the real world, however, the action movie formula doesn’t work. Our lives don’t instantly change simply because we defeat ‘the bad guy’. A vanquished foe doesn’t suddenly create freedom and villains don’t all wear black hats while evilly twirling their mustaches. Life is never as simple as ‘good guys’ and ‘bad guys’. True heroes do not attack merely on the basis of assumption alone. And lashing out at a stranger is the very definition of acting on assumption.

I don’t know everything about you or the factors which drive you to spout hatred. The things you shout tell me a great deal about what you fear but offer very little about how those fears wound up taking such a deep root and firm hold over you. Perhaps if I knew more about those things I would be less inclined to view you as merely a fear driven bully, but it is difficult to feel consideration for someone actively showing none for others.

Here are some things I do know.

I do know that if you are lashing out at me without actually knowing me then all your venom and vitriol has nothing to do with me, not really. It is your fears and feelings of powerlessness you really want to strike at. I am just substitute, a stand in that is easier on the ego than taking a long hard look at the truth of your own situation. One stranger is as good as the next, if it wasn’t me or members of my perceived group it would simply be someone else.

I do know whatever cliché, stereotype, or bigotry you are using to cast me as the villain is something passed on to you by someone else. Hatred and discrimination are learned behaviors and while it may not be your fault they were pressed upon you it is your choice whether or not to continue them. And not just continue them but elevate them to the point they mean more than the well-being of others or even your own decency.

I do know hateful ideologies can be extremely seductive because they seem to offer enticingly simple answers. ‘All people of a particular group are evil, because so-and-so says so, and they are responsible for everything that’s wrong’. What could be more simple and self-excusing than that? Simple and completely false on every possible level. The seduction is understandable but we all have the choice of whether or not to be seduced.

I do know the specific difference you are targeting doesn’t really matter, not truly. Trying to eliminate all difference is a pointless and never-ending crusade. The one thing we all universally share is that we all differ in some way. Even if you are somehow able to chase away everyone who looks different, acts different, dresses different, sounds different, smells different…no matter how homogenous the group there will always be difference at some level. And eventually you will be the one with the offending difference. It’s amazing how suddenly difference ceases to be such a horrendous sin when it is we who have become so labelled.

I do know that while I am an openly gay man with a mildly unique quirk to my sense of fashion I am also a 6’1”, 200lb, double black belt with a very Zen presence which means I have the immense privilege of very rarely having to deal with such random blasts of bigotry. Except, on occasion, from those individuals of rare courage who wait until we have both left the coffee shop and I am sitting in my car at the traffic light to start barking at me about my coat from the sidewalk across the two cars between us. i could care less over something so laughable but I do know there are far, far too many people who face far, far more threatening acts of fear spawned aggression far, far too often.

I do know that while bullying has always been with us this kind of bigoted ranting has become much more common place thanks to the spectacle of people in positions of substantial political and public power using the pulpit of government and influence to spew hatred with impunity. Not just impunity, celebration. By those who are so dominated by their fears they are leaning into the seduction of hateful scapegoating rather than resisting it.

And I do know these words are almost certainly falling on deaf ears. Those who have embraced and are enthusiastically spouting hateful rhetoric are not interested in personal change, growth, or self-challenging thought. They have capitulated to their fears, surrendered to bigotry, and have forsworn any learning or understanding beyond that which they already feel they know. Knowing you outburst isn’t really about me doesn’t cancel the potential pain your words might cause or the potential trauma of being bullied but there is very little point in appealing for concern from those who have decided they are the only ones deserving of any.

Here’s the rub, though. By assigning all the blame and fault to we villainous ‘others’ you are also giving us all the power and control over your life. By casting us as your nemeses you set yourself to spending all your efforts and energies railing against us and our ‘dangerous agendas’ rather than spending any of that energy on actually improving your own situation. By building us up into greater and greater boogiemen you make all those fears you are attempting to escape greater not lesser. If our mere presence threatens to destroy you, that gives us immense power and gives you virtually none.

There will always be factors in our lives, both close to home and abroad, which are beyond our power to control. We now live in a globally inter-connected world and as such the decisions, actions, and inaction of others even on the far side of the globe can have enormous impact on our daily lives. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have some level of influence, most often we do not.

But our behavior, our conduct, our contribution…that we have complete and total control of. We have the full and total power of choice over what we bring to the world around us. We can choose to try and lift that world up and the people in it, to enrich and empower and engage. Or we can choose to try and tear that world and those people down, to spread fear and anger and hate. That choice is entirely ours.

Being a force for life, positivity, and betterment isn’t always easy. In fact it is often incredibly hard. But making the hard choices in order to do what is right is exactly the type of choices true heroes make. The easier choices to hate, fear, and victimize…those are the choices villains make.

Written by

A professional dancer, choreographer, theatre creator, and featured TEDx speaker with an honours degree in psychology, two black belts, and a lap-top.

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