Perpetrators of hate ignoring lessons of history

Columbus has made it clear. We live in a community that will not accept intolerance and hate. The Southern Poverty Law Center has documented more than 700 examples of threats, intimidation and hate since the presidential election.

Unfortunately, we have seen local examples of such behavior. Vandals defaced St. David’s Episcopal Church in Bean Blossom with vile speech and a swastika. We also have learned that students taunted their classmates at school.

Columbus decided that this is not the kind of community that we want to be. Hundreds of people stood together to express love and solidarity at the Stand on the Side of Love rally Nov. 11.

The perpetrators of hate and cruelty are ignorant, perhaps willfully so, of history. They have ignored the horrors of slavery, war and the Holocaust. They have either embraced or misinterpreted symbols of hate.

Throughout our history, brave American men and women have fought and died to make this world a better place. They wanted a free and safe society. To lash out in bigotry dishonors their memory. There are countless examples in history of how hate, exclusion and stereotyping have led to war and genocide.

Many of those who engage in actions of hate actually feel terribly insecure. Hate is a way to make them feel important or better about themselves. If anyone who maliciously tried to hurt someone through words or deeds happens to be reading this, I have a few suggestions:

Read a good book

Get to know someone who is different from you

Strive to live by the “golden rule”

Consider doing something kind

If all else fails, seek the help of a professional

The election has increased tensions throughout the country. At a time of even greater political turmoil, Abraham Lincoln appealed to the “better angels of our nature.” In his 1861 inauguration speech, he warned his fellow Americans that political fervor “must not break our bonds of affection.”

Lincoln’s words survive from a time of our greatest calamity as advice for all time. Every day, each human being has a decision to make. Are we going to stand on the side of progress or be on the wrong side of history? Will we fight for love and inclusion or be seduced by hate? We can choose to embrace our better angels and ignore the demagoguery and vitriol that continues to lower the political discourse.

The lack of civility and surge in hate speech may be connected to how we communicate. We send texts and emails instantly, usually without knowing how those words may impact someone. Our attention to phones and computer screens has eroded empathy. Technology should make it easier to connect rather than drive us apart.

It is easy to make anonymous and hateful statements on online forums. It has also become clear that during the election cycle, unsubstantiated or completely false news stories provoked fear and hatred. These stories spread like wildfire. The truth, if it even saw the light of day, appeared days later, and usually, with a whisper.

The hate might be an attempt at shock value. Those words and actions are not humorous nor entertaining. The perpetrators may have been making a sad cry for attention. They certainly have our attention now. Columbus has demonstrated that it is a vigilant and united community against hate.

Aaron Miller is one of The Republic’s community columnists and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. He has a doctorate in history and is an associate professor of history at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.