Halloween is looming. Orange and black is the new black. Strange creatures populate every commercial cranny. People who are old enough to know better are asking themselves, “What will I be for Halloween?” I assume that come the 31st, the Undead will figure prominently in a variety of displays. They are very hot media properties despite their questionable existence in the real world.
The history of Halloween gets spun differently depending on who is doing the spinning. A few minutes on the Internet can take you from Halloween as a time to place flowers on the graves of your ancestors to honor their memory, to Halloween as the time when the denizens of the underworld can clamber up into the “real world” and walk among us, often with evil intent. "Be afraid! Be very afraid!” It is this latter view that favors the frolicking Undead. And, unfortunately, it is the one that intrudes upon my thoughts these days.
You see, public displays of fear have been troubling my university over the last week or so. It started with a couple of overtly racist GroupMe posts between NC State students being captured with screen shots. The captured posts went viral, necessitating a response by the Chancellor, resulting in a great deal of public angst throughout both town and gown. Racism stands in direct opposition to the four tenets of Distilled Harmony [www.distilledharmony.com], so there is no question that I find the content of the posts abhorrent. However, having spent about 41 years teaching college, I am equally committed to the idea that college campuses are exactly the places where competing ideas must collide. Popular speech, happy speech, conformist speech needs no protection. It is unpopular speech, revisionist speech, minority speech, and yes, stupid speech, that needs protection. It is only in an environment that protects such speech that all ideas can be contested.
Other colleagues will argue that the posts are "hate speech" and hence give up their right to protected status. I will leave that to the lawyers. I will however suggest that what we often label hate speech isn’t really hate speech. It is fearspeech. Let me explain.
The first tenet of Distilled Harmony is to Foster Harmony. That demands that in order to live a harmonic life we must examine the existential tension between areas of harmony and areas of discord and subsequently champion harmony. E.g., kindness is harmonic, cruelty is discordant. Hence, if we seek to live a harmonic life, to Foster Harmony in our existence we need to privilege kindness over cruelty. Hate speech would seem to privilege hate over love. But to cast love and hate as polar opposites misses, I think, the true areas of opposition. The more accurate poles of opposition are love and fear. Think about it for a moment. If you have a “pocket of hate” hidden in your psyche somewhere, peek in there for a moment.
Do you really “hate” those people, or do you fear what your world will look like if “those people” and “their language,” “their religion,” “their culture,” whatever, come to dominate your day-to-day life? Or do you fear them because “they” and “their language,” “their religion,” “their culture” whatever, already seem to dominate your day-to-day life? Regardless of which end of the telescope you look through, it is a tube of fear; and Internet trolling, bullying, hate speech and hate crimes are the behavioral manifestations of that deeper entity: fear.
So how do we Foster Harmony in this particular arena? By addressing fear, which is the root cause of hate. And fear is itself usually the result of ignorance. Entities who peer at each other across a fence of fear are also separated by a gulf of ignorance. As neither has ever truly lived life inside the other’s skin, each is largely clueless regarding the reality of the life lived by the other. It is this confluence of ignorance and fear that drives hate.
There are policies, programs and courses that my institution has implemented to confront this nefarious confluence. There are those among my colleagues who say “Too little! Too late!” To whom I respond, “So, go, do. If you do not wish to follow, then lead.” Personally, I have come to the conclusion that while programs, policies and courses are worthy undertakings to confront the ignorance that drives fear, the route to finally defeat fear and hate is a personal path. And, for me, that path is marked by the four road signs of Distilled Harmony: Foster Harmony, Enable Beauty, Distill Complexity and Oppose Harm.
So what am I going to be for Halloween? I dunno. Clowns are apparently out, victims of their "creepy" kin. Maybe we’ll just snuggle down in the basement and watch George C. Scott’s version of A Christmas Carol. I thought I saw a wreath at the grocery store yesterday…