Join the UNHATE campaign
By: Sharon Ryan
| Posted: Wednesday, Jan 09, 2013 06:00 am
The same week a gunman massacred 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook school in Connecticut, in quiet St. Albert, I was Christmas shopping as I tried to digest what had just happened down south. Like everyone else, I grappled with the question of “why” and tried to find some meaning in that senseless and brutal massacre.
I knew I was being changed by the horrible event. I found myself standing in long shopping lines waiting for my turn to pay and being quiet and pensive trying to digest how a young man could bring himself to kill children.
In those quiet moments, I was observing other shoppers and tuned into some really incredible incidents of incivilities between customers and retail workers.
There was the cranky old man who, when he was told he would have to pay five cents for a bag, threw a pencil at the young female cashier. And then there was another customer who told a young Asian cashier that her opinion wasn’t valuable and if she didn’t like it here she should go back to China.
What do these events have in common?
At first glance, it seems ridiculous and disrespectful to compare them. The massacre involved the deaths of 20 innocent children and six adults and riveted the world whereas the retail examples demonstrate simple social rudeness.
Upon deeper reflection, however, we can see that these incidents are related by the common thread of hate. Hatred led the gunman to kill so many precious young children, and it wasn’t love for the young cashier that led the customer to throw a pencil at her.
We are learning that simple acts of hate can build to contribute to devastating atrocities in society. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism is studying the impact small acts of hate can have in the spreading of larger hate in society. They call this phenomenon “the flash to bang period.” It refers to how long it takes for a simple idea to grow to the point where some members of society react wildly.
The idea is based upon chaos theory, which uses a butterfly metaphor: the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Texas can cause a tornado in China. Terrorist experts are realizing that two seemingly unrelated events have the power to connect somehow and result in horrible actions.
This new realization is grabbing ground in a new movement called the UNHATE campaign. Its origins are sponsored by the Benetton Group, which has started a foundation to stop all acts of hate both big and small. It has focused on the theme of the kiss, a universal sign of love, and encourages young people to promote love using social media by posting pictures consisting of the kiss theme.
I wish I had found this research a long time ago. Even a couple of weeks earlier would have helped me avoid my own shameful example of hateful behaviour. A day after Christmas, fatigued, I decided to go to church to collect my thoughts and enjoy some peace and quiet when an elderly man badly dressed like Mr. Claus approached me after Mass while I was still praying in the pew. He reached into a plastic shopping bag and offered me a candy cane and said, “Happy New Year.”
I politely explained that I was on a diet and could not accept his gift at which point he looked stunned and let the candy cane fall from his hands onto the wooden pew. “You could have accepted it and given it to somebody else. So much for being charitable,” he said. He was right.
I remember watching that candy cane fall like in slow motion and the moment it smashed against the pew was so quiet, I swear you could hear the flap of a butterfly’s wing and now I find myself wondering how the weather is in China.
So the next time you feel prompted to act in a less than kind way toward anyone, remember the butterfly metaphor and play it safe. Instead of reaching for harsh words, reach for a friend and give him or her a kiss. Maybe that moment will be so peaceful that the two of you will create a bright and beautiful day somewhere.
Sharon Ryan lives in St. Albert and teaches ethics for UCLA Extension.