Reflecting on the Charlottesville violence: how we should respond

“While nothing is easier than to denounce the evildoer, nothing is more difficult than to understand him” -Fyodor Dostoevsky

When events like those in Charlottesville, VA, occur, it’s important to try not to let our emotions get the best of us. We sure as hell have reason to be upset over the hatred, racism, and bigotry that somehow still exist in our country (it actually sickens me) but if we want to end this division, the first step is to understand why it exists in the first place. And that requires looking at both sides.

There’s no doubt that groups like white nationalists are unacceptable in a society that values equality. But what is driving these groups to feel the need to voice their unpopular opinions?

Groups like that don’t just pop up out of nowhere. They’re made up of individuals who, over time, feel threatened by changes in their environment and want to resist those changes. The white nationalists in Charlottesville felt threatened when their city’s park name was changed from “Lee Park” to “Emancipation Park.” They again felt threatened when the city council voted to remove the statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. The reason they felt threatened is because they identify with the confederacy, and they’re witnessing changes that threaten to wipe away any remains of it.

They’re acting out of fear.

You better believe I’m not saying that what they’re doing is okay, I’m just trying to explain what I believe is their underlying motive. When you look at the motive of most radical individuals, it almost always comes down to fear. Even looking back at the confederacy itself, the southern states acted out of fear when Lincoln was elected because they believed it threatened their way of life, which was based on slavery. That’s why they seceded from the Union. You can even look at Arab Muslims who became extremists after our invasion of Iraq which Bush called a “crusade,” which to them meant a holy war against their religion. They, too, acted out of fear (again, not saying it’s okay).

When we’re dealing with groups that hold opinions that seem extreme, it’s easy to say that they’re wrong and irrational, and to spew more hatred towards them. But what is this ever going to accomplish? If anything, it would only give them more fuel to commit acts of violence, which they would see as justified.

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate,” –MLK Jr.

There’s already so much division in our country, we don’t need to further divide ourselves. What we need to do is act with respect, tolerance, and love towards the people we come in contact with in our everyday lives. Now I’m not saying “the white nationalists just need to be loved!” or anything. What I’m saying is groups like that are made up of individuals, and individuals are what make up society. We interact with individuals on a daily basis, and those individuals go on to interact with others. Whether the six degrees of separation theory is sound or not, the world is small and we affect people more than we probably realize. The way you treat someone often determines how they feel after your interaction, and how they feel determines how they then treat whomever they interact with. Knowing this, we should be using our thoughts, words, and actions to spread as much good as we can.

I really hope we don’t see another sickening event like what took place in Virginia. Whether or not we do, we should all make an effort as individuals to have a positive impact on those with whom we interact in our everyday lives. The world is small and we’re all more powerful than we think, due to the fact that acts of kindness multiply fast. So before we’re tempted to douse the wrongdoers with hatred, remember that they’re acting out of fear, and fear can only be overcome with love.

 “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that” -MLK Jr.

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