I can't keep forgiving your desperation

By: Sonia Schmidt

Today when I went to my mother’s study after lunch seeking her advice as to what to write about, she looked up at me, her expression one of disappointment, her eyes doing that shining thing they always do when she gets passionate about something, and she told me that athletes had been booed at the Olympics.

Now the logical parts of my brain were telling me that athletes get booed at sporting events all the time, and while it may be demoralizing, it isn’t really harmful, right? But for some reason this really irked me, not because it was a petty, immature act, but because of the implications it held. Several Russian swimmers were booed before competing because of the accusations of state-sponsored doping involving hundreds of Russian athletes.

I am in no way condoning doping, and I get that anger propelled by a feeling of injustice from the confirmation of these accusations are what fuelled these boos. Yet I couldn’t shrug off the feeling that there was something wrong with this, beyond etiquette. It’s one thing to boo at a call a referee has made that you think is wrong, or even at a player who has done something against the rules. However these swimmers were booed for daring to take the stage. The Olympic games were something that these athletes had undoubtedly worked for their entire adolescence; this was the ultimate achievement. Their competitors were met with cheers and accolades and singing, and they were met with gloomy boos.

Now I have no idea whether or not these athletes were doping. I’d hope not, given that they did indeed compete. But I also refuse the idea that they deserved the boos simply because of what country they came from. It’s extremely unlikely that those booers knew those athletes personally. For all I know, those athletes despised doping as much as those booers did. Even if athletes currently competing are doping, for all we know some of them were pressured by coaches or teammates. As well as this, since the doping in Russia was state-sponsored, they could have endured pressure from their government, and who’s going to say no when their country’s government is telling them to take all means necessary to win. I refuse to believe that the entire Russian team was doping or wanted to be. I have too much faith in people for that. Maybe that makes me naive.

But these booers represented a more pervasive problem for me. They were yet another example of how often we judge people and abhor them because we know one fact about their heritage.

And this makes me furious. I’m just angry at people who assume the worst in others before they know their stories. I’m angry at people who run campaigns that attack entire groups of people who have nothing to do with concentrated problems. I’m sick of people who seek power by alienating innocents.

Prominent political leaders are just shouting keywords to rile up crowds. The idea of being politically correct is now taboo in their eyes. I understand where they’re coming from. As a writer, I disdain the idea of someone trying to limit my speech or keep me from discussing the issues at hand. However, insulting people does not expedite the solving of an issue. In fact, causing more commotion by angering masses stalls the reconciliation of said issue. I am of course speaking of the famous, or infamous depending on your beliefs, Donald Trump.

People talk a great deal about why his statements are offensive. In fact, I can’t respect a politician who seeks to offend and outrage as many people as possible. I can’t respect a person like that, forget politician. And while I dislike that this is a main campaign strategy of his, there is something that disturbs me more significantly: the blatant disregard for the practical effects of his statements.

In the most immediate sense he is just pitting people against each other; he is creating class divides, racial divides, ethnic divides. In the long term he is promoting the ideas that ostracization, polarization, judgement and hatred are the cornerstones in problem-solving and running a functionable society. His speeches bolster the ideas that we should antagonise certain people because of the color of their skin, their political affiliation, their gender, or their religion. That the only way to “Make America Great Again” is to isolate, deport, and spit on portions of the people who inhabit it.

Graphic by Hugh MacLeod @ gapingvoid.com

Now it’s not Donald Trump who is the only proponent of these ideals that are paradoxically nationalistic, yet also reviling all that America has “become.” Marie Le Pen from France wanted to stop all immigration into the country and “reclaim France.” We just saw Britain leave the EU, and while this was a multi-faceted issue, some of the main arguments were grounded in anti-immigrant rhetoric.

Scapegoating is a natural human response when we are in tough situations. We have never been good at taking blame, our first instinct is to find people to point at and say “It’s their fault, we have to stop them, and then we’ll be okay.” But it is rarely this simple.

I’ll leave you with this plea:

Please try to look beyond the first things you know about a person before you decide to degrade them in any way. It does take more work, I know. But one day for all you know you could be hated for one thing that you can’t control. Maybe you already are, and you can think of it, it’s on the tip of your tongue, leaving a bitter taste. You’ve seen sneers or heard comments or seen postings online that make you feel like you don’t belong here, like you don’t matter, like you don’t deserve to be alive or believe in what you do. Maybe these things have hurt you, their words, a knife, cutting the pride and confidence and hope right out of you.

Therefore, I beg, drop the knife. Take the time to learn about specific situations and stories before you alienate or hurt people. Drop the knife, and rise above it.