Last week, as I’m sure everyone knows, the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality. I saw a lot of celebration on my news feed. There was also an article shared about a pastor who stated that he would set himself on fire if gay marriage was legalized, and many of the comments I saw were things like, “Has he done it yet?” “Fire! Fire!” and so on.
I feel bad for that pastor. How much hatred does he have to have inside him for him to threaten to light himself on fire because of something that has nothing to do with him? How much must he hate himself to make those statements? We’re a culture that’s easily angered. We’re intolerant of his hatred and intolerance, and our knee-jerk reaction to such stupid statements (because yes, I think it’s stupid to light yourself on fire because other people now have more rights than they did a month ago) is to bring gasoline to his fire, to jump on the hatred bandwagon.
I’m not hitching a ride.
I get why it feels good to respond to his hatred and anger in kind, but it doesn’t do any of us any good. From the time I was little, my parents told me “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” and no matter how much we pretty it up, that’s what the sentiment boils down to. Righteous anger might feel good, but that doesn’t make it right.
If I tried to talk to that pastor and met his hatred with more hatred, I pretty much guarantee he wouldn’t hear anything I had to say. If, however, I met his hatred with compassion, perhaps he would hear me. Maybe not. Maybe he would hear some part of what I had to say. I can’t make others listen, but I’ve found that if I treat people with respect, it almost always has better results than treating them with disrespect.
There are a lot of people I don’t agree with. There are opinions that offend me. But if people respond to intolerance and offense with hatred, it just perpetuates more hatred.
It might be difficult, but I encourage you to remember that when someone is awful, your hatred won’t make them better, nicer, or more tolerant. After all, nothing you can say will be worse than what they live with. People who spread hatred have to live with themselves. Treat them with kindness, because they’ve already sentenced themselves to life in a prison of hate.