Try a little kindness

Published on Winchester Sun, October 17, 2019

Last week’s column generated more feedback than anything I’ve written so far as a columnist for the Sun. Most of the comments I received were from people who agreed with my thesis, but a fair amount of feedback was more critical.

The column was about how those of us on different sides of the political fence should try to get along, to understand one another better, and not to assume bad intentions of the other.

I love getting feedback from readers; it lets me know folks are reading and gives ma a good gauge of what topics people are concerned about. I don’t expect everyone to always agree with me; if everyone agreed with me, there would be little point in expressing my opinions in print.

Of the critical comments I received, most shared a common theme. The readers felt that I was speaking from a privileged position and downplaying the effects of bad policy on minorities.

They thought that I was blowing off real problems with certain politicians by emphasizing the need to get along with those with which we disagree.

That was not my intention at all.

There have been many great people throughout history who fought battles against entrenched powers for the benefit of oppressed people. Some of the most notable included Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

While fighting their battles in very different times and cultures and under very different circumstances, these three leaders shared some common traits.

All were very concerned about the treatment of oppressed people.

All were able to gain access to people in authority to “speak truth to power,” and all did so successfully.

They all taught and practiced a form of non-violent, passive resistance.

Although none of them lived to see their battles ultimately won, their causes continued long after their deaths.

And all placed love and kindness above all else.

I believe any effective movement toward change requires first getting opponents to listen to your message. If you start from a combative stance, you are unlikely ever to gain the trust and respect necessary to get them to listen.

I see no problem with advocates of change being kind to and even befriending those who stand in their way. Doing so in no way compromises the cause. What compromises the objective is failing to understand how to communicate effectively.

How about a real-world example?

Megan Phelps-Roper is the granddaughter of the late Fred Phelps, the longtime pastor of notorious Westboro Baptist Church. You may remember that church for its staged protests of the funerals of American soldiers and its extreme anti-gay messages. The church is universally reviled for its hateful beliefs and tactics by nearly everyone of all religious and political stripes.

Megan grew up in the WBC and was thoroughly indoctrinated. As a child, she joined the protests, holding signs and chanting vile slogans. She became accustomed to the retorts of well-meaning counter-protestors, who responded in kind to the church members.

Needless to say, no WBC member was ever swayed by the counter-protestors.

Megan grew up, became a lawyer, and worked for the family law firm. But until the age of 26, she remained firmly in the camp of the family church and its hateful teachings.

It was about that time Megan began encountering people on social media who, while strongly opposed to the vile message of the Westboro Baptist Church, nevertheless treated Megan with kindness and respect. Notable among these people was a man who would eventually become her husband.

Megan had her eyes opened to the reality of WBC and the hurt they had inflicted on so many families. She left the church and was shunned by the church and her family.

Today, she works to overcome divisions and hatred between people with religious and political differences.

It wasn’t being yelled at that changed Megan. It wasn’t being shunned by the “woke.” It wasn’t by force.

Megan’s heart was changed by kind people who saw her not as evil, but as a human being in need of love and education.

I consider that a win-win for everyone.

Pete Koutoulas is an IT professional working in Lexington. He and his wife have resided in Winchester since 2015. Pete can be reached at pete@koutoulas.me or follow him on Twitter @PeteKoutoulas.

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