Angry. Contentious. Combative.
That’s how various news outlets described the meeting atmosphere where U.S. Congressman Raúl Labrador spoke to Idahoans on Tuesday, April 18.
“Audience members yelled, ‘Do your job,’ and waved signs criticizing the congressman’s voting history,” according to KBOI News. “Shouting between attendees sometimes drowned out Labrador’s responses.”
Labrador is not the first politician to face aggressive crowds.
Local and state leaders across the nation and on both sides of the aisle have found themselves facing angry mobs.
According to The New York Times, “in California, Representative Tom McClintock was escorted by police officers after a town-hall-style meeting earlier this month; in Utah, the crowd chanted ‘Do your job!’ at Representative Jason Chaffetz, the chairman of the Oversight Committee. At a meeting last week, House Republicans were advised on security precautions so they would be prepared for protesters at town-hall-style meetings or their district offices.”
A simple Google search reveals articles like “How to Survive an Angry Town Hall,” by the Daily Caller and “At Republican Town Halls Across the Country, Anger Rises,” by NPR.
These headlines tell us something; people don’t know how to hold an intelligent, civil discourse in the political sphere.
Of course, it’s appropriate to feel passionate and speak out about issues that matter to us. But, no amount of yelling, screaming or adult-tantrum throwing ever secured long-term or beneficial progress for individuals or society.
Progress is only achieved when citizens listen to the opposition, inform themselves on the issues and present their view points civilly.
Up to this point, town halls meetings have not been filled with consistent violent incidents.
But, the same cannot be said for protests.
Journalists, fellow protesters and bystanders alike have been beaten and hospitalized in the name of “progress and change.”
Many who find themselves in the guilty party of explosive or excessively critical anger and in some cases, violence, often justify themselves with historical protesters like Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Ghandi.
But, there’s a difference between these protests of the past and the modern outbursts of rage prevalent at town halls, protests and even in social media posts.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was famous for his Six Principles of Nonviolence, often called “The King Philosophy,” according to The King Center website.
According to King’s book, Stride Toward Freedom, the principles of nonviolence are that:
1. Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people
2. Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding
3. Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people
4. Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform
5. Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate
6. Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice
These principles of passion do not ignore injustice, inappropriate conduct by politicians or even poorly constructed laws. In fact, these principles of non-violence — non-aggression, if you will — facilitate the means by which these injustices are changed.
History has seen great success using these principles.
For example, slavery met its end in Great Britain thanks to the patient, passionate and non-aggressive strategies of William Wilberforce. Wilberforce employed educational, informational sessions, research, speeches and books, in addition to meeting with freed slaves and learning the personal stories of those who had suffered and caused such suffering. After 40 years of work, Britain made slavery illegal without shedding a drop of blood.
When faced with hunger, poverty and discord between religions in India, Mother Theresa left the safety of her convent and went amongst a people who despised her and her God. She spent the remainder of her life changing lives, changing minds and changing the world.
We may not be remembered as Dr. King, William Wilberforce, or even Mother Theresa, but our decision to approach injustice with dignity and civility will impact our communities, states and even the nation.
Listening to an opposing viewpoint to understand where detractors are coming from or choosing to research our views more deeply so as to present truthful and powerful facts when discussing the things that matter most to us are excellent ways to start.
In 3 Nephi 11:9, the Book of Mormon teaches “he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.”(3 Nephi 11:9)
We’re also told to bridle our passions, in Alma 38:12, in the Book of Mormon. Furthermore, in Matthew 5:22, in the New Testament, it states, “Whosoever shall say unto his brother…thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”
Strong words from the Savior concerning how our conduct should be, especially as members of his church.
We are all vessels of progress and have the capacity to change the world, even if it’s the world directly around us, with our words and our actions.
“Man must evolve for all human conflict a method, which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation,” King said in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. “The foundation of such a method is love.”