"Don't let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do." ~John Wooden
When I got home, I began to explore this deeply upsetting incident more thoroughly. A good friend called. I didn't mention what had happened. Part of me wanted to. But I couldn't. I was too ashamed. I also realized that I was not prepared to have this incident control me any longer than it had to. So, I needed to process. And I needed some help. I wanted to talk with my brother, John, who is really good at this stuff. He was not available until much later, so I sat alone with these thoughts for the entire evening.
I understand that we humans are hard-wired to focus on negative emotions and experiences. That we retain 'bad' memories longer than 'good' ones. That, at one point in the evolutionary process, this was helpful in assuring our physical survival. But these feelings were not serving me well now, today. Observing my outsized reaction, I thought how fragile I was to be so rocked by this comment from a total stranger! Did it have to do with the fact that I had survived a recent, late-life divorce? Or is it just the human condition to be so sensitive to slights?
And what exactly made it acceptable for this woman to melt down, hurling insults and hateful words at a stranger on a sunny, spring Sunday afternoon?
What about adolescents and teenagers who suffer bullying, not just from peers but from perfect strangers in cyberspace? I mulled over how well I would have handled this if I were that age. It made me shudder. I am so much better prepared now, with all those years and experience under my belt. Young folks, however tough they act, are still so vulnerable. They haven't been through enough yet to fortify them as they traverse those pesky speedbumps. And yet - look at my own reaction to just a few words, carelessly tossed like a grenade, to detonate amidst my minding-my own-business, isn't-spring-wonderful Sunday.
What fuels today's highly polarized and divisive climate? While it certainly starts at the top, Trump did not invent either intolerance or bullying. But like a maestro, he has fine-tuned * intimidation, going after gays, immigrants, the Press, the NFL, Hillary Clinton, Hollywood stars, and myriad others, including fellow Republicans like John "not a war hero" McCain; in short, anyone who doesn't agree with him, or gets in his way. Then, there are the many (predominantly women) he has deemed size-impaired: Rosie O'Donnell, CNN's April Ryan, Alicia Machado, the 1996 Miss Universe winner, other beauty queens, even foreign leaders, like North Korea's head of state. The dark Era of Trump has seen a disturbing and substantial increase in hate crimes; is it now kosher to attack anyone for anything? And does that include any of us who might not be as svelte as we might like to be?
Did Trump's relentless hatefulness give my verbal assailant permission to go after me, in a twisted version of the trickle-down theory? It certainly didn't help. Research after the Holocaust has shown that genocide starts slowly and escalates. The critical first step is to demonize and dehumanize those targeted. Emotional distance then permits hate to flourish and the rest predictably follows. Maybe I should be grateful that this woman's rage did not include packing an AR-15. In either case, it's time to devote some serious attention to getting these dangerous emotions and attitudes back inside Pandora's box, for all of our sakes. February 17th was Random Acts of Kindness Day. Oops. It's not too late, though.
Starting today, I commit to regularly practicing random acts of kindness. Please join me and share your stories and suggestions. Bonus: Doing good deeds not only improves your health but can be contagious. So, let's get together to drown out the harsh words of all those bullies out there by creating a tsunami of kindness!
"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." ~Aesop
"A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions and the roots spring up and make new trees." ~Amelia Earhart
"When they go low, we go high." ~Michelle Obama
Thanks once again to OpEdNews Managing Editor, Meryl Ann Butler, for help with images, quotes, and inspiration. You always make my work better, much, much better!
*The Daily Beast: Bullying Experts: Trump is an Eighth-Grade Girl , 9.16.2015My previous piece on bullying: The World of Cyber Bullying: Author Nicola Mar Promotes Awareness 10.11.2015
Meryl Ann Butler, OpEdNews' Managing Editor, wrote a piece on Random Acts of Kindness in the wake of Sandy Hook (2012). Check it out!