When my father, former Senator Bob Bennett, passed away just over a month ago, our family was inundated with kind messages of love and support. Glowing tributes appeared in the media, and my siblings and I read every one we could find. We also, against our better judgment, read the public comments people made online.
For the most part, the comments were just as kind as the articles, but there were some glaring, obnoxious exceptions. One guy went on every site he could find to remind people of the eyesore that was the abandoned Bennett Glass and Paint Warehouse that used to be on the corner of 21st South and 300 West, a building my father didn’t own and had nothing to do with. Another thought that excoriating my father as a RINO was appropriate in light of his passing, as if a parting partisan shot was going to make a difference. One person just typed two words: “Ding, dong…” As in, I assume, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead.” Every nasty barb made my blood boil, and even if such messages were preceded by a dozen lovely sentiments, the nasty ones overshadowed everything else.
Nastiness tends to do that. Just a tiny bit of it can color your entire perception, like a single drop of red food coloring into an otherwise clear glass of water. The transparent water outweighs the red, but the red distorts and changes everything else, far in excess to its actual percentage of the overall liquid.
Remembering this is helpful as I am forced to absorb the news of the horrific massacre in Orlando, the worst mass shooting in American history. As the response to this latest atrocity breaks down predictably along partisan and ideological lines, I find myself uninterested in taking sides, because I think the sides are increasingly defined by a small amount of negativity that is perceived to be much broader than it really is. And I think we are all diminished when we assume that a single drop of bile is actually an ocean, and that vast swaths of our fellow human beings are as odious as the monster who perpetrated these crimes.
How many people, in the wake of these murders, have stated that most Republicans are indifferent to gun violence? They aren’t. With a handful of odious exceptions, they’re as torn up about this as everyone else. How many people, in the wake of these murders, think that Muslims applauded this slaughter? They didn’t. With a handful of odious exceptions, they’re as horrified by this as everyone else. How many people, in the wake of these murders, believe religionists, or at least those who teach that sex outside of heterosexual marriage is sinful, would like to see gay people gunned down in cold blood? They wouldn’t. With a handful of odious exceptions, they’re as heartbroken by this as everyone else.
Yet in the wake of every publicly evil act, we only hear from the exceptions and not the rules. We get posts about the one repugnant pastor who prayed for gays to die, or the one Muslim extremist dreaming of 72 virgins, or the one hillbilly who thinks he has a constitutional right to own an ICBM, or the one Donald Trump who thinks keeping all Muslims from immigrating to America would have prevented a terrorist attack perpetuated by an American citizen who has been here his whole life. (Sorry. Cheap shot.)
The point is that we’re shown the One, and then we’re told the One represents the Many. And maybe, as in the case of the Trump-ites, they do represent the Many. But I have to think that, in most cases, they do not. And certainly it would improve our interactions with each other, as we each try to come to terms with senseless violence and find ways to prevent it, if we were to speak to each other one on one, and not make the lazy assumption that those who disagree with us are equivalent to the very worst representatives of any Many that we don’t like.
I think that would actually help.