With Malice Towards None

This blog is intended to be uplifting and encouraging.  I felt the need to leave this post here. Perhaps it will fulfill the same role.  My apologies in advance if it fails.

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Those of us that live in the USA have had a lot to consider lately. For some reason, four words from the final paragraph of  Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address came to mind.  It is simple enough to find such things these days.   The Civil War was not over, but the end was in sight and there was no expectation that the South could win.   Lincoln could have celebrated, even gloated.   But he chose to frame the war as a divine consequence of the entire nation.   Today one might say, “karma.” His intent was to unify a nation that had been violently torn.  He did not point the finger of hate   His speech was four paragraphs long.  It is packed with meaning because of his stinginess with words.

Here is the final paragraph.

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

Even if one does not know the historical context, the modern implications are stunning.  (I am sure I didn’t need to point that out.) I would highly recommend reading the entire speech.  It will not take long to read.  It might take longer to consider.  Go ahead and have a look.  If you choose you can finish this later.

There are many ways for humans to discount other humans.  We seem to have an innate ability to consider that another creature that has a surface resemblance to another person is not really a human.  The chief mechanism for this is to label another person as part of a group.  A less-than-human group.   Once this is done, little else needs to be done to validate the treatment of this group as less than human.

Given a label as the mechanism, there are several power sources.   But a quick, efficient, and easy power source for the labeling machine is hatred.  It is OK to treat someone as less than human because they have a less than human label and they are bad and evil.

As much as we do not want to admit it, there seems to be a force in the world that has a desire for us to be separated by our hatred for one another.   And anyone who pretends that it is easy to sort out is suspect from my point of view.    Besides the obvious labels revolving around race, religion, and politics, I have seen people treated as less than human because they had a speech impediment, they were nerds, they lived in the wrong side of “the tracks”, or because of any number of physical characteristics.  There always seems to be someone who, for their own reasons,  wants to empower hate.

I started to make a list of reasons humans hate other humans, but I was embarrassed and discouraged about how easy it was.  The list can quickly get long.

I have decided on some responses.

First, endeavor not to confuse disagreement with hate.    I have deeply held political beliefs and I have spent various personal resources in supporting them.   But that does not excuse hating the “other side” or immediately deciding they are evil.  Or even evil AND stupid.   There is plenty of evil to go around in politics and not all of it is on the “other” side.  The “evil and stupid” is just one example.  If you ever dehumanize a person you place your own  humanity in jeopardy.  And, in my belief system, this also damages your relationship with God.  But it is also wrong if you subscribe to a humanist philosophy.

Next, I choose to actively an intentionally resist the efforts of others, whether in my personal life or in national media (news and otherwise) to convince me that hating certain groups of people is OK.

From this point, the decisions get more difficult.  I do not to pretend to give solutions in every instance. The best thing that can be done is to develop a personal decision process.  I outline some of my process, but I would prefer that you be challenged to do the same rather than accept mine whole cloth.

When hate is directed your way it is nigh impossible to be coldly rational. But making the effort is good.   We are not expected to be a doormat in the face of verbal or physical violence, nor of violent threats.  Sometimes it is a matter of avoiding negative situations or people..  But sometimes we must take steps in defense of ourselves or others in our circle, whether it be family, friends, or people who are in our care.   We are allowed defense.  Hopefully we can make the right decision when it must be made in fractions of a second.

It is hard enough to draw this line for ourselves.  It is doubly hard to draw the line for people we have never met about events that we have not seen when we are considering if the actions of others are appropriate.  It is really so easy to make up an explanation when we really have none.   A better path is to reserve judgement when facts are not known.  Virtually any “hate” incident also generates competing narratives about what happened that also build hate, and it hardly seems accidental.  Rather than accept a a lie that fits our personal believe situation, just stay out of the fray.   You are not required to judge.

Reserving judgement is difficult.   But it is good to make the attempt.  It is good to break the circle of hate.  That does not mean you must avoid judgement entirely.  Or even usually.  It is about waiting until more facts are in.  And, truth be told, sometimes we do not get everything we know to construct a truly accurate opinion.  It is a human characteristic to form an opinion instantly.  (Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnman)  But it is so worth the effort.

Revenge is a different story.   And those that call for vengeance are as guilty as those who through their own hate choose to actively kill, injure, or engender more hate.  Revenge is an ineffective and inappropriate solution, especially on the personal level.

It is a most vexing challenge to avoid the temptation to join the hate war.  Too often it sounds something like this: “We should end all hate.. Except for the people I hate.  That is OK. Because they are so bad.” Or, “Say no to hate.  But you can hate _____ because _____.  But no hate for anyone else.”  Sure.

So in the end I can offer no final solution.  But becoming aware of the hate machine is a start to resisting its influence.   I don’t know that humans are capable of perfection in this matter. But most all of us are capable of doing better.   So maybe make a start  towards living life with “malice towards none.” Even if we fail, we seek to fail upwards.

I have attempted to work out my thoughts on paper an they are in a form that I am ready to share.  But they are far from final.  I reserve the right to revise and/or extend my remarks.

Rob Reck
July 9, 2016
Tulsa, OK

Small revision 6/30/2017