Pardon me as I stray from the usual scope of this journal. As much as I try to steer clear of politics and social issues, sometimes it’s impossible. Even after a week of media saturation, I have not become numb to the sickening pain of Tyler Clementi’s death. A kid killed himself because he was outed. Is this 21st century America? A few months ago Phoebe Prince was literally bullied to death.
We are raising a generation of unfeeling, hateful teenagers. We, meaning all of us. Listen to the tone of our debates – the accusations hurled at the other side. Signs at rallies, broadcast nationwide on FOX, CNN, and MSNBC shout “Homosex is sin.” Cries over megaphones that gays are damned to hell. Just look at the anger and hatred in the eyes of the protesters. It’s fair game to dehumanize your opponent.
If our children are listening to people invoking the Bible saying that gays are unworthy of God’s love, and hear “Christian leaders” declaring homosexuality and Christianity cannot peacefully coexist, how can we be surprised when some teens interpret it as carte blanche to attack gays? These sound bites and images are everywhere.
So much of what afflicts our society, while not caused directly by the media is most certainly amplified by it. And it threatens to unravel the greatest political experiment in the history of mankind. The tone of our political discourse sets the tone for our civil and social interactions. I’m neither naive, nor am I ignorant of American history. Since the 1780s, inflammatory speech has been a way of life — the Federalist and the Jeffersonian rants about the other were every bit as over the top, mean-spirited, and libelous as Olbermann’s and Beck’s blatherings. But they weren’t beamed by satellite to every living room, health club, and airport 24/7.
It’s not just gays. The fringes of the pro-life movement have painted targets on the backs of pro-choice doctors. Commentators with audiences in the millions have likened supporters of health care reform to Nazis.
There will always be bigots, hate mongers and crazies, but there will also be decent people to counter them. It’s time for us to stand together and tell those who preach in hateful tones that their behavior is unacceptable, that their choice of words matters. It’s not easy calling friends, family, and colleagues out. It doesn’t feel good. But it has to be done. Kids are dying because of our silence.