Q: First there was Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen being surrounded at a Mexican restaurant in Washington, DC, and driven out by people yelling "Shame!" a day after she defended the administrations policy of separating children and parents at the southern border. Next it was White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders being asked to leave a Lexington, Virginia, restaurant by the owner. Then there was Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) encouraging people to publicly confront and harass members of the Trump administration in response to family separation policy.
At first I was really thrilled by all this, but then I started having second thoughts. Is that how we, as humanists, should behave?
--Right On, or Wrong Move?
A: Dear Right On,
Humanists or just fellow humans? I had the same initial reaction and immediate second thoughts. Although I agree with the sentiments--abhorrence of the policies that split up families and traumatize young children (not to mention the parents)--and the desire to hold the minions accountable, I don't think this is an appropriate or laudable approach.
I keep putting the shoe on the other foot: How would I feel if someone read my columns, hated my views, and accosted me during a dinner out with my family? How is this different from the man who hassled a Muslim girl in a coffee shop, or the man who screamed at deli workers who were speaking Spanish to each other? How is it any better than the baker who turned away a gay couple ordering a wedding cake, or the florists who refused to fill an order congratulating a girl for getting a prayer removed from her public high school's wall? Obviously there's a difference between accosting someone over their publicly shared views or professional actions and attacking someone simply for being a member of a class of people you disapprove of, but they're all examples of attack on the basis of categorization rather than individual, personal animus.
Even before I saw the documentary about Mr. Rogers, I have believed it's better to be a benevolent person than stoop to the level of those with whom we disagree. It's preferable (and much harder) to counter meanness with kindness, to combat ignorance with enlightenment, to react to violence with nonviolence, to respond to arguments we loathe with an effort to understand where that hatred is coming from--rather than just lobbing back an equal but opposite measure of hatred. I...