As I sit down to write this, I am struck by how much has happened over the last many months. This country and our world are experiencing hatred at an alarming rate. Whether it is between political parties, racial groups, or religions, we are more segregated than we have been in years. The divides between “us” and “them” are becoming stronger and instead of respecting each other’s differences, we see the “other” as a threat. Unfortunately, the result is a sharp rise in hate crimes.
As evidence of this, there were over 2,700 anti-Semitic acts performed in this country in 2021 alone and Jews are experiencing more anti-Semitic incidents than we have in more than 40 years. Other groups are not immune either. Anti-Muslim bigotry is running rampant and multiple groups of people are being targeted simply for being who they are.
As high-profile politicians, athletes and entertainers use their fame to spread dehumanizing messages and misinformation, it is more important than ever to stand up against hate. I can honestly say that what upsets me more than all the hurtful posts on social media and personal attacks against members of my community is the sheer silence after each event.
Instead of outrage, there is nothing.
This lack of response compounds the verbal and physical attacks we suffer. It makes those of us in targeted communities feel alone and scared. The silence is noticed, and it is deafening. It reminds me of the teaching, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.”
As a community leader and a mother, I fear for my family and my community when I see the lack of response. As a citizen, I fear for our larger community when I see the divisiveness that is growing unchecked.
This is why I am so proud of the work Paths to Understanding is doing. This last fall, I had the pleasure of taking “Let’s Go Together,” a course which Terry Kyllo (PTU Executive Director) taught to members of a Lutheran church in Burington, and one that will be repeated for more groups in the future. As a PTU board member, I wanted to see exactly what was happening in the class. I quickly began to look forward to each session and learned a great deal. I listened as Terry taught the group how to understand Christian Scriptures in a way that magnifies the beauty of Christianity without denigrating other faiths. Through text study, we learned how verses traditionally used to support anti-Semitism could and should be understood differently.
I sat speechless as Terry spoke. I had never heard Christian Scripture explained in the way Terry taught. In large and small groups, we learned why it is so vital to speak up in support of others. We pushed ourselves to practice what we would say to those who question why we stand for those different than ourselves.
I feel a deep sense of appreciation – for Paths to Understanding’s liberating message and for their call to action.
I feel an equal sense of gratitude for all those courageous enough to reexamine their understandings of text. I left the class feeling that if each of us could be so brave, we could build a world where we understand differences to be an invitation to learn instead of a reason to fear. I know one class will not solve everything, but it is a starting point. If each person who takes this course leads by example, we will model how to stand up to support our neighbors. Our message of support and inclusivity will spread, and the silence will be broken. The voices of friendship and respect will prevail over the voices of hate.
Margaret Mead once taught, “never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Let each of us be those change makers and let us bring about real and meaningful transformation. We will all be better for it.