The New Xenophobes

There’s a disturbing trend I’ve noticed where liberal-minded, good-hearted people go on a rampage or a rant on Facebook about a group of people they hate.

It starts out well-meaning enough. There’s some injustice, some suffering, something going wrong that they really don’t like, and the anger wells up in them, and they start spewing out all kinds of condemnation and blame. And maybe they’re right that the thing they hate is really a bad thing, that life would be better for everyone if we didn’t have this bit of injustice and suffering.

But in their anger, they cross the line into bitterness and hate.

We all do it sometimes, I think (except maybe the most saintly among us). We’ve all had those moments. Maybe it’s watching a leaked video of an American attack helicopter shooting journalists, and the thought occurs to us, American soldiers are evil, heartless monsters. Or a video of four cops beating up an elderly black woman, and so much anger arises, and memories of this happening over and over, and it becomes the thought, “All cops are racist pigs.”

In my anger, I cross the line into bitterness and hate.

One time at a big arts event, I was talking with a girl from Montreal, who started going on a rant about people from Alberta, who, in her opinion, are all in love with oil and money and all hate the arts.

I didn’t mention to her that I live in Calgary and have worked in Fort McMurray, or that I’ve also volunteered or worked for seven or eight arts organizations in Alberta over the years. I didn’t feel like she would have been able to compute that dissonance.

In that thought, I suppose I dismissed her just as she had dismissed my three million neighbours.

It’s so easy to form judgments. That’s how our brains are wired, with fear and judgment, so that we can recognize threats and survive in a cruel world.

We have to make a conscious effort to exercise bigger thoughts of acceptance when our fear tells us to shrink back in fear. It takes courage to open our hearts to other possibilities, to other stories, when it feels easier to rely on old stories of how terrible those groups of people are.

This is the courage that overturns slavery, the courage that forms new bonds of friendship, the courage that changes laws to accept the marginalized even when the old laws protect us more than the new. This is the courage that sees bright new possibilities even when our fear tells us that “those people” will never change.

In our courage, we can cross the line from bitterness to an open heart, from small dark fear to the light of strength.


About Craig

Craig lives in Calgary, Alberta.
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