By Leah S. Dunaief
Two young boys, 10 and 8, were in a local playground last weekend, bouncing on a pogo stick, when four teenagers approached them. “Hey, could we have a turn?” one teen asked. “Sure,” said the older of the two boys, pushing the new toy forward toward them. Some conversation followed, indicating that the boys were Jewish. The teens then began ominously bad mouthing their religion, and one teen took coins out of his pocket and threw them at the boys. They were startled, then scared, and they began to run away. What had started as a fun afternoon will become a lifelong painful memory for the two youngsters.
We know children can be cruel. Anyone who has ever read “Lord of the Flies” will certainly agree. But this is more than bullying. This is bullying with hate. And on what basis is that prejudice founded? The afternoon was beautiful, the young boys were generous in their response, and the setting should have been one of neighborly interaction among young people. Instead, it served as an excuse for bias. Where did those teens get their ideas? The deplorable answer is often “from their parents.”
How do we understand prejudice? What prompts it? What inflames it? Why should someone whose skin is one color think they are somehow better than someone of another color? Yet, children are “carefully taught,” to quote the line from “South Pacific.” Do we fear differences? Do we need to feel superior to others in order to be happy with ourselves? Why aren’t we simply judged by what sort of persons we are rather than how we look or what we believe?
Speaking of beliefs, political partisanship is threatening to rip apart our country. Never in my lifetime have people so defined themselves as being of one party or the other as now. We can’t even talk about our differences now. And never has that definition resulted in broken friendships and even broken families as now.
What’s happened to bipartisanship, to working together for greater good, for sharing our flag? Aren’t we all Americans? Don’t we all appreciate what is unique in our country, even as we try to improve its failures? When did the word, “compromise,” become an epithet? While there will always be disagreements about policies and actions, together we have moved forward and accomplished great goals since 1776. Now we can’t even get our facts straight.
The only issue that seems to pull us together is fear of being attacked by some outside force. Congress acts in unison when voting substantial sums of money for Ukraine. Suddenly, on the world stage, we are united and bringing other countries that believe in the rule of law together to oppose the Russian leader. If we can do that for the rest of the globe, why can’t we do that for ourselves? Maybe it’s because we can all agree on the same set of facts, that we are opposed to a fascist leader and his unprovoked assault, and we are afraid of who he may be coming after next?
So this is what we need to get us to work together: a common enemy. Heaven forbid that such a threat should ever materialize at our shores or in our heartland. For by then, it may be too late to undue the grievous harm being done to our nation from within. We are enduring daily shootings and killings of innocent children. Our evening newscasts reveal a society in chaos instead of under an orderly rule of law.
How much of the violence in our current lives is the result of the shouting and insults being hurled back and forth among our leaders? Rhetoric plays an important role in people’s behavior, and the rhetoric we are constantly surrounded by is hate-filled. Our citizens, especially our young, have huge mental challenges. While the coronavirus is partly to blame for the collapse of order and predictability, it is not the only culprit.
What else is? The immoral, unconscionable grasp for power that fills our airwaves with hate.