Cynicism, fear, assumption, accusation and hate; these words come to mind when we think about terrorism and prejudice. We look at the conflicts in the middle east and elsewhere wondering how did it get to this point? How can this society be so blind and filled with so much hate. When we study terrorism, we find out that propaganda and the spread of rumor or downright lies about the target society is used to win over support. We see anti-American video, advertisements, and pictures wondering how they can possibly believe that hype. When talking about it with our children, we bring up wonderful ideas like world peace, love, and hope for resolution. However, do we really model behaviors of a people who want world peace? Do we demonstrate love for those suffering?
In our own country, as we face problems like police trust in urban environments, specifically among young black citizens, we often become jaded. Recently, there was a social media campaign with the hashtag #blacklivesmatter. It was very surprising and quite disturbing to see how many people took offense to this and changed it to #alllivesmatter. Our society as a whole would agree that, yes, all lives matter. However, the issue at hand was the overwhelming number of young black lives being taken in situations where, if the tables had been turned, a young white suspect would likely have walked away. When we see a slogan rallying support for heart disease research, we don’t hijack that slogan and change it “all diseases matter”. Maybe you have no risk for heart disease, but high risk for cancer. That still does not influence you to resent the work done in bringing awareness to heart disease. So why do we allow that same scenario to jade our view of actual individual humans and a situation that is very real. Our children see our reactions, and instead of developing a sense of concern and awareness for a terrible situation, are taught to focus it upon themselves and become cynical about any group that does not include them.
In small town America, there is another trend that is disturbing and so similar to the tactics used by hate groups and terrorists. We are becoming a more diverse nation and working towards accepting and recognizing that diversity. This is new for us, historically speaking, considering the civil rights movement was only about 50 years ago. In places with little diversity, varying religion (non-Christian) and cultural / linguistic diversity seem extremely scary to much of the population. It is a classic case of fear of the unknown. That is natural and human. However, instead of learning about these populations of diverse citizens, small town America spreads fear with the incredible power of social media by posting inflammatory and downright false stories and accusations about these cultures. Right now, for obvious reasons, Islam and middle eastern populations are specific targets, immigration being a close second. Spreading this false information fuels fear, which ignites hate, and incites violence and quite simply non-humanitarian viewpoints towards those suffering. It clouds the need for real conversation and legislation regarding these topics. These inflammatory posts rile up populations with false information and prevent positive progress, on both sides of the issue. It is the same tactic used by terrorist groups to recruit young soldiers; creating fear and blind hate towards a group or culture through social media and propaganda materials.
Our children hear us speaking, aloud or online. They see our posts, often times mimicking them on their own social media pages. When we express fear and intimidation, that passes right along to our children. We expect our children to properly site their research projects, using academic and accurate sources of information. We do not question that as proper technique when a school report requires them to have a citations page. Why then, do we as adults, not hold ourselves to the same standard? When an article or post starts with “What they won’t tell you about….” or a post seems so outrageous that it incites rage or fury over the topic, yet you have not heard this story elsewhere, chances are you need to double check the source and accuracy. This can be a bigger task than it seems as there are so many opinion websites with no authority to report on the topic. Many sites sound well written, as if they are real stories. Just be wary. Be proactive and strive to create a world of peace and mutual respect by fact checking, evaluating the tone of the language used, and avoiding segregation and pride. Let’s create an environment where our youth feel hope and love towards our nation and one another. As the old adage goes, treat others as you’d like to be treated yourself, if not for your own well being, for that of our future generations.