Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Extremists’ assaults


I was enjoying a very restful time in Palm Desert with a friend of mine (pseudonym Donna) who had invited me to join her in her Marriott timeshare. I relaxed fully, although it was so hot that I was even lazier than I thought I should have been. (I had a couple of projects to ease my conscience.)

We watched little news, listened to music, read, enjoyed the vivid desert sunsets, shopped a bit and just simmered down for a few days. Our only contact with reality was via her phone and our laptops, keeping up with important tidbits and wading through all the unnecessary enticements of the Internet.

Because it is an election season, I am already tired of hearing how distorted the facts and conclusions are of the party one opposes. I debated writing about my latest experience with the violations of human decency one encounters when using e-mail or Facebook, especially scanning down the messages one knows will not be relevant or fruitful. 

Three weeks ago, I was assaulted one morning on Facebook by a photo-shopped image of Barack Obama in a hanging noose. My first reaction was one of shock and nausea. My second reaction was that I wanted to comment to the sender about how disgusting that was, my third was to realize that in no way would my opinion ever change that person’s views, and then I put everything on hold for awhile. 

I am not a great Facebook user and seldom comment, except for an occasional “Yes!” or “I love this!” But I thought about the polarizing nature of politics today and decided that I needed to at least state my repugnance at this desecration. One just does not wish death to political opponents. It has crossed my mind that someone high in office puts him/herself in a position to be assassinated, a sad possibility.

The idea of polarization is disturbing, but there is another side of the issue to consider. Sometimes polarization at least leads to an examination of the values we hold dear and an affirmation of our concepts of right and wrong. Not speaking up often results in a bland acceptance of everything really being “OK”: the concept that all people have cultural and religious concepts that have been inbred and thus might be acceptable even to other cultures can be equally dangerous. 

Where do we draw the line regarding such practices as humiliation, torture and even death for a woman’s behavior that would be tolerated in our society? As well, how hypocritical are we in our treatments of others?

I fear, though, that extremists of any philosophy, sure of their righteousness, make this world more dangerous now than ever.

Donna also invited two dear friends a few weeks ago to share in another vacation. On the drive to the destination, the two guests began debating politics. It got so heated that, in a matter of a few minutes, after arrival, one of them cancelled the vacation and headed home. She had requested that the hostile confrontations stop, but the other woman kept on, citing unproved statistics and indulging in heated rhetoric.

After a week with the woman, Donna asked her to stop sending her inflammatory emails. Not only did she ignore that request but continued with even longer hateful posts. Thus a lifelong friendship may be over. 

When I was with Donna, I read her friend’s latest message. Most of the comments agreed with her perceptions, but one expressed a clear thought, “Putting one another down stops our thinking and we go into emotions such as ego, insecurity and anger. On the other hand, taking a deep breath and encouraging one another with respect in our communications helps us all to think straighter. What do you think?”

During the last presidential election, I wrote a quasi-political column. I experienced what pundits surely must if a writer states his views: I got the worst hate-mail letter ever, full of misconceptions about my words and, among other assertions, statements that I was a baby-killer, certainly hateful and unlovable. After, being timid, I returned to my usual subjects, the views of an older woman who has tried to live life on life’s terms. I could never run for office, nor am I able to write controversial columns because I was raised as the peacemaker whose goal was to make people comfortable. 

Kudos to those who, without being extremists, dare to engage in researched and reasoned political discussion.

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