Countering Hate Speech

A while back, ten years maybe, my young daughter and I were waiting to check out in a long line at a grocery store. We were all feeling impatient but one man was making loud, derogatory remarks about the store and when his wife asked him to stop shouting, he turned on her. “Shut your f—ing mouth, f—ing bitch,” and so on. Then we were all really uncomfortable. A black woman, early-30s I think, was in line behind them. She may have said something—I didn’t hear if she did—but the man suddenly turned on her with, “What are you looking at, you f—ing nigger whore?” and on and on.A switch flipped inside me. I put my daughter behind me and stepped out of the line from where I had been trying to make us invisible, and said, “Sir, that is not necessary.” (Not necessary? Talk about your understatement!) He stepped toward me and shouted about the store, his f—ing wife and said that, “No f—ing nigger was going to tell him what to do.” He stepped back toward the black woman, and I repeated, firmly, without fear or animosity, “Sir, that is not necessary,” He looked at me, shouted that it was none of my f—ing business; I repeated the not necessary’s. Much to my surprise, he turned and walked out the door. All of us sighed our collective relief.It was a remarkable experience for me. I thought afterward that, “Sir, that is not necessary” was lame, but later I realized they were the perfect words to deflate the situation. No name calling; he was, “Sir,” and I said only that the behavior was unnecessary. It was my first significant lesson in applying non-judgmental compassion in a difficult situation, even if it did seem to come through me, not from me. 🙂

No one deserves to be treated disrespectfully, not even that highly-stressed man who had so obviously been mistreated himself. All he knew about communication was angry, amped-up fire. I realized later that if I had spoken with anger, the situation could have escalated to one in which someone might have been injured. I was also grateful there were lots of people there; it would have been nearly impossible for me to speak up otherwise.

Hate speech, anger, hate-groups, racism, bullying, all of it stems from ignorance. We live in a time when the darkness is being lifted, a time when each of us can make a real and enduring difference in our world, by caring about others and spreading kindness, by speaking up when we can for those in need, and by being open to practicing peaceful responses in troubled situations. The black woman waited for me to come out of the store and thanked me for speaking up. I hope to live until the new world with new ways of being human is born, where love and respect and compassion are the standard and no one ever has to feel hated or hateful.