You Can’t Take Back Hate

My mother taught me an important lesson when I was a teenager.  You Can’t Take Back Hate.

On this anniversary of 9/11, we should be remembering and honoring the Americans who selflessly tried to save their fellow citizens, some of whom paid for their valor with their lives.  The firemen and policemen who went into the Towers, the soldiers at the Pentagon who tried to help their trapped comrades, the ordinary people who went to work, or got on an airplane, only to be caught up in the events of that day, and who did their best to help their coworkers survive, or were able to prevent another plane from destroying the White House or Capital Building.

And many of us are doing that.  But so many others, as has become more and more common in these past few years, are taking any opportunity to make hateful, nasty comments on otherwise respectful stories, advocating their viewpoints as to who and what is at fault for whatever is their particular cause of the day.  Just as they do every day, on blogs and news stories.

After 9/11, we were not Red or Blue, Democrat or Republican, rich or poor, north or south or western states.  We were Americans.  We stood together, ready to defend our country and do whatever it took to help our fellow citizens.  Sadly, that didn’t last long.  Cracks crept in.  Sides were taken.  Today, it seems that no matter what subject you raise — the economy, religion, sports, real estate, the weather — people can find a way to blame those on the opposite side of their narrowly-defined ideological spectrum for the perceived problems of that subject.  No one wants to have an honest discussion about ways to solve our problems.  All we want is to blame someone else.  Preferably in the most vitriolic, venomous words we can find in the dictionary.

Compromise is a word not even to be considered in these conversations.

We seem to have forgotten how our country was formed.  The men who gathered to declare our Independence, and later to write our Constitution, came from different backgrounds, religions, social brackets, ideological convictions.  They wanted different things to be incorporated into those fundamental documents.  But they compromised — they yielded on things important to them so that they could achieve that over-riding, important goal of declaring us a new country, independent of Great Britain, and establishing us as a country and government of, by and for the people.

We couldn’t do that today.  Not when all we seem to want to do is spew hateful words about anyone who doesn’t match our particular set of beliefs and expectations.  And all that happens when you do that, ultimately, is that you hurt yourself, and the ones you love.

When I was 17, I had an argument with my mother.  I don’t even remember exactly about what we were fighting — but I remember snapping at her, in my superior, know-it-all voice, that it was her fault we were so poor that I couldn’t buy a dress but had to wear what she made for me.

And then I watched my mother start to cry.

I tried to apologize. I did.  She just looked at me and told me that once you say something hateful, you can’t take it back.  Then she walked out of the room.

We never spoke about that day again.  I wasn’t brave enough to ask her if she forgave me for what I said.  And now, years after she died, I can’t.  All I can remember is what I said, and the look on her face.  I can’t take back those hateful words, and they festered between us, unresolved, for years.

To anyone who reads this entry, I ask you to do one thing.  The next time you want to make a snippy, arrogant, nasty comment about anything, before you press the send button, before you open your mouth to yell at someone, whether it’s something political or religious or just the merits of your college football team  — Please. Stop.  Think.

Would you say those words to your mother?  Your husband?  Your son?

Would you want someone to say it to you?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t express your opinion.  I’m asking that we find a way to have a civilized, respectful dialogue.  In the spirit of those who gave their lives for this country, on 9/11 and in every war we’ve ever fought.

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