What is accomplished when we fight hate with more hate?
Some situations in life are so disturbing they shake our confidence in human beings. While at first it seems the problem is caused by the bad actions of some “other” person, it is rarely that simple.
Recently, I became aware of an incident in which an individual at a local business recognized Confluence Health CEO Dr. Peter Rutherford in the store and refused to serve him. Even though details of this incident have been posted on Facebook, I don’t think it’s productive to name the business. There’s enough hate happening already.
But there are perhaps lessons to be learned from taking a closer look at what happened.
The confrontation was prompted by the Confluence’s decision to mandate vaccinations for all employees. It’s a fact that Confluence could have accommodated employees who chose not to be vaccinated, but its leaders decided a mandate would best protect the health and well-being of patients and fellow employees. A number of individuals declined vaccinations ultimately lost their jobs.
It is reasonable and appropriate to question or disagree with Confluence’s decision. At the same time, it is also reasonable to support Confluence’s vaccine mandate for the safety of patients and employees.
When I first read about the confrontation, I found myself becoming angry at the individual in the store as she was at Dr. Rutherford. Facebook posts were split between people applauding the individual’s action and others who were talking about boycotting the store and who supported Rutherford.
After cooling off, I started hoping that the individual involved was just having a bad day and perhaps regretted her actions. However, someone forwarded me a video clip the individual posted on social media in which she celebrated her actions: “So I’m working today here at (the business), and guess who came in — probably the one person you want to punch in the face (Rutherford) and it was my pleasure to refuse service to him.”
I find it deeply unconscionable that she publicly fantasized about violence toward a fellow human being. But the uncomfortable truth is that I initially felt as much ill will toward her as she expressed toward Rutherford? Was my internal outrage significantly different from her public outburst?
Peter and Karen Rutherford told me that the confrontation initially shook their faith in the community and wondered if the incident revealed a prevailing attitude towards them. The subsequent outpouring of support from friends and acquaintances helped them move past the shock and they ultimately came away with a renewed faith in their neighbors and this community.
It is disturbing that public discourse in our society so often devolves into demonization and dehumanization of those with whom we disagree. This happens across the political spectrum. Most of us contribute to the collective hate that exists.
The irony is that when we express hatred publicly or privately, it exacts a serious emotional and physical toll on those of us who become consumed with hate.
The confrontation and its aftermath provide a useful case study in the dynamics of a toxic cycle of hatred in which, individually and collectively, we are diminished and our sense of common humanity disrupted.
So how can we interrupt the cycle of hatred?
I like the prescription offered by Thom Nees of Serve Wenatchee Valley, who suggested that we respond with both grace and mercy.
Grace means disciplining yourself to see the humanity in others regardless of what they may have done or said, even if you vehemently disagree with them. It’s allowing people to not be you. Mercy calls for us to refrain from exacting vengeance on people we think have caused harm.
By applying those principles, we can perhaps reduce hatred in our hearts and choose a more constructive path. We can and should call out destructive behavior but not stoop to the same tactics in response. The woman who confronted Rutherford in the store and fantasized about punching him in the face was dead wrong, but that doesn’t make her a bad human being.
We are all guilty of perpetuating hate to one extent or another. We can choose a different path.