My brother and I have never been trick-or-treating. When we were growing up, we were part of a community that saw Halloween as “the devil’s birthday” and “a celebration of death and evil”. Even though my family didn’t really embrace those beliefs, we went along with the community because we didn’t want to rock the boat. I’m not too disappointed. I didn’t like dressing up, even as a kid, and unless the strangers were handing out bags of sour cream and onion potato chips, French fries, or black olives, I wasn’t really interested.
Over the years, I saw so much boycotting. Many of my friends weren’t allowed to read Harry Potter because it “celebrated witchcraft”. Television was evil. I went to friends’ homes that had “filter boxes”, devices that were placed on top of their television to bleep out profanity. Some of them were so powerful that they even bleeped out the word “sex”.
Needless to say, the more I grew up, the more I realized how ineffectual and even dangerous some of these practices can be. They rely on an atmosphere of fear, guilt, and judgment in order to promote what the community considers moral. Instead of fostering discussion or education, they stop the discussion before it starts. They rely on boycotting so that they don’t even have to hear ideas they don’t agree with, much less address them or attempt to understand them.
And you know, it’s easy for us to make fun of this community and these practices because we believe in ideals like education and openness. Or at least, we claim we do. But we’re often just as guilty of shutting down conversations before they happen.
The world doesn’t change because people choose to ignore or shut out the things that make them uncomfortable, that they disagree with. And I think at some level we all understand this, because we say we value education and openness and free speech. But then we turn around and judge people who have different views because they offend us, especially by boycotting. We end the discussion before it can even begin by throwing out words like “bigot, hate, monster”.
I’m not blind. Horrible things happen every day to everyday people who are just trying to live their lives and be happy. There is bullying. Hateful speech is thrown around carelessly. And I think, because the other side is so quick to shut down the conversation by calling out phrases like “God’s wrath” or “this is how it’s always been done, why would we change it” or “against nature”, we’re quick to do it too. We’re quick to forget that you can’t fight hate with hate. You can’t fight boycotting with boycotting.
The world doesn’t change because people choose to ignore or shut out the things that make them uncomfortable, sad, and lonely.
The world changes when we open ourselves up to the discussion. When we turn the other cheek. The world changes when we allow for other people to make mistakes and meet them where they are. Because we don’t live in a world of “for” or “against”. We live in a world of chaos and it’s through generosity and understanding that we make it a better, more hopeful place.
Orson Scott Card has said some hateful, violent things. But you know what? He is a free, frail human being who is living within the limits of his own understanding. If I choose to shut out his ideas, shut out what he’s created, that is also my choice, but by doing so I am only perpetuating a cycle of misunderstanding and hate. I am telling him, “You are worthless. I am choosing not to see you as a human with a deep potential for change, for growth, for love. I am choosing to see you as a monster.” And by saying this, I am only perpetuating a cycle of bigotry, guilt and shame. Don’t you see?
It seems that those who oppress are very strong. They have so much power. But really, those who spread the most hate, shame and guilt are the weakest among us, and they need us to be strong. They need us to show them what love really means, what being different and whole and hopeful is.
Love means listening even when it hurts.