There are lots of psychological explanations about why we engage in stereotyping and creating “us versus them” situations. Earlier this week an article titled “The Psychology of Stereotypes: Why We Create Them and How Do They Hurt?” explained why we do it, what it says about us, and why it is a harmful practive. Regardless of the reasons behind the behavior, the truth is that it’s not okay. Stereotyping is bad enough… but now, thanks to the internet and social media, much of the stereotyping that we see in our community has turned into harrassment, name-calling, and other hurtful behavior… in other words, it has turned into bullying. We know better – or at least we should. There probably isn’t one among us who didn’t hear or resort to reciting, “Sticks and stones may break my bones . . .” as children. CHILDREN! We are adults now, and we certainly know better! How is it that we justify engaging in behavior that we would chide our own children for? That we counsel against? That our schools spend millions of dollars each year combating? This behavior is nothing more than an adult version of bullying.
Group dynamics are powerful, and there is rarely a bully who acts out on his/her own without accomplices (or at least a cheering section.) Who has the power to end stereotyping and the adult-level bullying that goes along with it? YOU do. I do. We ALL do. It just takes something that often makes us uncomfortable – being willing to be the one who makes waves.
After the conclusion of World War II, A well-respected German pastor-turned-lecturer named Marten Niemöller was credited with the following, well-known and often misquoted verse:
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.“
This verse has been modified over the years to be applied by and to various social, political and religious subgroups in an effort to make the simple and painful point: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men [and women] do nothing.” (Quote attributed to various sources, including Edmund Burke and John Stuart Mill.)
Are we good women and men who, by doing nothing, allow evil to flourish? How can we say no when, rather than speak up and refute hatred and bullying when we see it, we choose to ignore that Facebook page or website in silent anguish, not commenting there for fear of being attacked. Not using our own real-world and virtual platforms to aggressively call out the offenders. Laboring under the hopeful belief that by not acknowledging their existence, we will starve those hateful people and groups of the fuel they need to survive. Romantic notion, isn’t it?
The reality is that there is an abundance of fuel for that vitriolic, verbal forest-fire of hatred. No fire line cut in the trees will keep the flames from us. Even an attempt at a back burn will have minimal effectiveness. The time has come for us to organize our bucket brigade and actively extinguish the flames rather than waiting – and hoping – for SO long that the fire ends up lapping at our own front door, threatening to destroy our community in a blazing inferno. No one else is coming with an engine truck. The rains from above are not sufficient to dampen the flames. We must act. We. Must. Fight. Back.
Otherwise, when the flames arrive on our doorstep – and they will – there will be no one left to fight for us.