Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Love One Another As I Have Loved You.

Fulton MS: The World’s Cruelest Town

I was checking out the various blogs I follow today and came across the above link at Grandmere Mimi’s. I followed it and my heart and soul wept. Especially when I persevered and finally reached the original posts on the Facebook page, Constance Quit Your Crying, mentioned. But I was sick in my soul even before that.

A couple of days ago, a young woman came to me about a text she had received from a male friend. What that young man had written was completely unacceptable in any context. As this woman is someone very near and dear to me I struggled with my feelings around this young man who I had never met. I had to watch what I was wishing for, filtering it through the lens of my being a priest and doing or even wishing something that was inappropriate on any level. I finally settled on praying that this young man would see the harm in his actions and choose not to hurt another young woman in the way he had hurt this one.

It is so hard to separate ourselves from our very human tendency to lash out when something hurts our hearts or our souls. And many of us are hurt by what we see as injustice. Originally, I was only perturbed by the news of the above false prom, not only on Constance’s behalf but also on behalf of the other students who were set apart. But then, as I read more and more of the comments by supporters of Constance I became perturbed by the lack of love and tact within those writing.

There were some decent comments, rightly pointing out the wrongness of having a fake prom. But a vast number of comments were inflammatory. I noticed a fair number tarring all people from Mississippi with the same brush. That is unfair. The comments tended to see things in terms of black and white. Because this incident happened in Mississippi, then all things there must not be good. Even within the people who thought up this bizarre and hateful action there is good. Even in the midst of their fear, they do love and they do good. This action was totally wrong. They did harm – not only to Constance and the other students but also, in the long run, to themselves. The negative stereotypic comments were not helpful.

Part of the reason why they are not helpful is that those who respond with fear and hate, as I believe happened in Fulton, do so because they already feel insecure about their world. They dig in and become more rigid. The more negativity they have to face the more defensive they become. Inflammatory comments fuel a persecution complex. The current fad is to respond to negativity by making oneself out to be the victim and to claim that one is being persecuted. One can see this if one perseveres and reads through to the original comments on the Facebook page. The students did not see wrong in what they did but only saw that they were victims because their prom was canceled. The more extreme comments criticizing their actions will not help in bringing an understanding in how they were wrong to participate in the weekends events and will heighten a sense of being misunderstood,isolation and persecution by the outside world "that just does not understand what really happened."

Another thing that disturbed me about the comments where the way some of the people were so personally scathing of the students who went to the “real” prom. There was name calling galore and nasty comments about dress and behaviour. The dress and behaviour were not that different from many another school prom and, yes, it is not appropriate but to demonize these young people for something many others do is not appropriate either.

Way back when I took a couple of night classes for my second year of university we had someone come to talk to us about cults. He told us that if someone from a cult approached us we should not respond out fear or hate or be rude and cut them off. The best thing we could do would be to invite them in for a drink and snack. The young people from the cult at our door were taught that the world is an evil place and when we respond negatively we reinforce that perception. When we respond with love and care we may possibly be sowing a seed that will help if/when the person starts to question their cult.

This does not mean that it is wrong to point out to the young people of Fulton that what they did was wrong on so many levels and that it not only harmed Constance and the other students at the fake prom, it also harmed them. But that should be done in a loving manner, in a way that may cause them to stop and think about their actions in a different light rather than dig in and defend their actions thus reinforcing the fear and hatred. I worry that the line between those who participated in the what happened in Fulton and those who criticize their actions is not that great. It just so happens that they are each at opposites ends of the issue but the language and the response is very similar.

I hold all who have been touched by this incident in my heart and my prayers. I pray that we may all become aware of how potentially harmful our actions and responses may be and work to remember that God loves all the children God created. If we place God between us and those with whom we disagree maybe we can respond with the love which that our Lord and Saviour commanded of us just last Thursday as he ate with his disciples and washed their feet.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie


Anonymous said...

While I agree we do not respond to bigotry and cruelty with demonization and negative reinforcement, I am glad to see this town collectively and publicly shamed.

Residents will live with what they have chosen. While Constance can move away and get on with her life, I wonder if some of her special needs prom mates will have that luxury, or classmates who put up the Facebook page?

Anonymous said...

Sorry Ann Marie, that was me.

Blog on!

Bene D