October 30, 2010

Extending grace to a Tea Party thug

Is there anything more representative of the Christian faith? I will say that I have a lot of trouble with this very idea--of extending grace and compassion to people with whom I disagree vehemently. I try. In person, I am usually pretty good at it. Email and blog allows a certain distance and impersonalization, perhaps.

Anyway. One of the reasons I have found myself so very frustrated with Republicans and the idiots from the Tea Party is the open endorsement or licensing of anger and boorish behavior. People who brandish their Bibles are screaming epithets or spreading lies. And it was only a skip and step to people being actually violent. Of course, that right wing violence has surfaced in several attacks on police over the last two years, the assassination of Dr. Tiller in Kansas, and the crazed right winger who opened fire at the Holocaust museum.

Now it is occurring on the campaign trails. Everyone has heard about the Rand Paul supporter who stomped the head of a liberal woman. That's right. She was down on the ground and he stomped on her head. He then blamed her for it (along with the police) and then demanded that she apologize to him. This is an abusive man, and a criminal. Somehow, the Tea Party has told people like him that they are right to be angry and should be angry. Then they wonder when he stomps on a head.

Luckily, she is ok, but not quite willing to apologize. But she does respond with a level of grace and compassion that I could not muster.
"You and I, as fellow citizens, and we, as a country, have a choice. Either we choose to continue the cycle of inflicting violence upon each other, screaming at each other, insulting each other and putting one another down or we and find a way to sit down and start listening to each other. We'll see how far we get. We are all viciously and vociferously feeding a fire that will only burn us down together. We must reach inside ourselves and make space for each other. We must forgive each other. We must believe in our capacity for transformation. The moment we choose compassion and reconciliation is the moment that we will begin to move toward freedom. There is no other way.

I believe that you should be held accountable for your actions but I also recognize the incredibly negative impact that the consequences must be having on your life, and I wish you all the best as you yourself heal from this. Violence hurts everyone."

Some of my friends are not terribly convinced this approach will work. I just find myself so impressed with this young woman and wanting to believe that we can rise above this kind of bickering and violence. I know her response was the Christian response (though I have no clue about her religious preference, btw), but I am not sure I believe that will work.


leighton said...

Some of my friends are not terribly convinced this approach will work.

It depends on what you mean by "work." If "working" entails helping her assailant see that what he did was wrong, then I don't think it's reasonable to expect her letter to do anything of the kind. He's already invested too much of his ego in the allegation that the entire incident is her fault, and direct contradiction is far more likely to make him double down than to provoke a change of heart.

But as an effort to get apolitical people to pay attention to what's going on, and to remind people who oppose what passes for tea party policy that thuggish vigilantism is not, in fact, the right way to do politics in this country, it's a good piece.

Streak said...

I hope you are right, Leighton. I am losing faith in Americans' ability or willingness to reason.

leighton said...

I'm not sure I've ever had that faith; I don't get the sense that we have ever been collectively very reasonable. Do you think she should have been stronger in her language? I think we would be screwed if everybody responded to violence like this, but I do like this particular letter at this particular time and think it works because it's so unexpected.

Streak said...

I guess I actually believe in rationality. I have experienced a bit of it in conversations with students and friends and family. Deescalation can work. We are often trained as kids to escalate and respond to anger with anger, and shouting with shouting. It is often amazing how responding to anger and shouting with calm questions can do wonders.

So, I think she did an amazing thing, and something worthy of the history of non-violent response. But I fear that those on the right are, and many of them are doing this unintentionally, encouraging irrationality and anger. I have seen it. I have seen it in distant relatives who seem to have decided that because they are conservatives they should be angry and leave rational and civil discourse behind. I don't see them responding out of anything rational, and that includes their faith--the very faith they have often preached to me.

I guess I see a special toxicity of religious fundamentalism coupled with white anxiety coupled with male rage that will end up like this more often than not. And that makes me very sad.

leighton said...

That makes sense; it seems to be a combination of unshakable faith that no bad consequences can ever come from actions taken without malicious intent, and a desire not to be asked to think about unpleasant things. I don't think there's any meaningful way to engage that if you're expecting obvious results. There's no good way to respond to "Stop making me think about uncomfortable things, because life wouldn't be fair if I ever had to leave my comfort zone. If life were unfair, it wouldn't be worth living."