“Man, the Patriots won the Super Bowl again. I’m so sick of them and their fans.”
No sooner had these words fallen out of my mouth than I glanced down and noticed the keychain of the classmate I had been talking to featured the infamous New England logo branded on his lanyard. Embarrassed, I stammered awkwardly, trying to explain myself. But the damage had been done. He assured me it wasn’t a big deal, and we awkwardly sat there together until class started.
Last month, Richard Ostler, a former bishop, came to Rexburg to give a presentation on how to be accepting of the LGBTQ community as a faithful Latter-day Saint. One of the things Ostler said that made a lasting impression on me was, “Be careful who you hate, it might be someone you love.”
I don’t know if I loved the Patriots fan in my class — he seemed like a good guy — but I unnecessarily alienated him by making a broad generalization that I didn’t even mean.
Rivalry among sports fans may not be the most important issue, but I still felt a certain level of guilt and embarrassment. I thought of the countless times I had been on the receiving end of a similar exchange. A friend, family member, classmate, coworker, professor or stranger had brought up some sort of label or association, and assuming mutual disdain, made a disparaging comment.
The problem in these situations is I either myself identify under that label, or someone very dear to me does. It can be extremely uncomfortable, and usually I don’t know how to respond. All I know is how terrible I feel afterward, a combination of anger, hurt and bitterness.
This has happened on levels ranging from the benign — someone trashing on the Golden State Warriors, unaware of my undying passion for the greatest NBA team of all time as a Bay Area native — to the appalling — someone indirectly making an extremely vulgar or rancid remark about myself or a close friend or family member.
My purpose in this article is not to try and shape opinion, beliefs or values. Those are all personal decisions that should be treated with respect and civility. Highly emotional issues and stories seem to dominate the news cycle, and the powers that be seem determined to sell hate, ignorance and disrespect like it is going out of business, which unfortunately it never will.
Contrary to the pressure we may feel, we don’t have to buy what they’re selling. We can, and should, have strong, educated, well-crafted opinions, values and beliefs. Having certain values, however, is not mutually exclusive with compassion, understanding, respect or even keeping an open mind. We can maintain our values without vulgarity, generalizations, stereotypes or caps lock.
The next time a highly emotive issue comes up in conversation, or a hotly debated topic is blasted onto your news feed and you feel you must take a stand, take a stand. But do so with these words in mind: Be careful who you hate, it might be someone you love.