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Editorial: Love thy young neighbor rather than lash out
Easter’s message a healing balm in a time when angry public debate leads to attacks on teenagers
04012018 STUDENT PROTESTS
Demonstrators cheer during a "March for Our Lives" protest for gun legislation and school safety Saturday, March 24, 2018. Students and activists across the country held events in conjunction with a Washington march spearheaded by teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where over a dozen people were killed in February. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The lessons of Easter will be taught from pulpits all around North Georgia this morning as the sun rises on the holiest of Christian holidays.

The holiday’s themes remain timeless: Sacrifice, redemption, forgiveness and rejuvenation. They are at the heart of the human spirit and the hope that carries us through life’s many travails.

We need these lessons to remind us what is possible more than ever in a time when the daily horrors we experience, and the resulting anger that often pervades public forums, can shake one’s faith. 

Too often, many among us have lost the ability, or the will, to interact in a civil, respectful manner and maintain perspective. It happens in many ways on a daily basis, such as when a motorist deemed too slow, too fast or too rude can ignite angry reactions that are out of proportion.

In particular, such antagonism thrives on social media, where faceless participants are divided into “us” and “them” based on shared or opposing interests and views. Some comments are so harsh it’s hard to imagine them being spoken to a live person across a table. But when we are separated by windshields or the comfy distance of the internet, anyone who rubs us the wrong way is dehumanized into unworthy enemies to be loathed and abused.

The worst recent example is seen in the backlash unleashed against Marjory Stoneman Douglas High students and their protests following the deadly shooting of 17 of their high school classmates in February at Parkland, Florida. They have channeled their grief into activism by conducting marches in their state capital and in Washington seeking  gun law reform. They were joined by tens of thousands of others nationwide in a series of events last week, including one in Dahlonega.

Their goal is to break through the perceived political logjam over the legality of certain weapons and who can buy them, believing such changes are blocked by lobbying groups who sway elected officials. 

The reality is a bit more complicated, as is the issue itself, but that’s a different discussion. Whatever one thinks of gun control, these young people expressing their views are passionate, engaged and inspired. We don’t have to agree with them to respect their involvement, and acknowledge that it’s refreshing to see youth motivated by something other than their own self interests.

But because they’re on one side of an issue and many in politics and media are on the other, their youthful zeal only labels them as “the enemy.” And in this war, the rules of engagement are less civil than they should be.

Recent disturbing examples are of many so-called adults attacking these high school kids on a personal basis beyond the issues. One of the young women most visible in the protests was dubbed a “skinhead lesbian” on Twitter by a candidate for office in Maine, who later withdrew from his race. Another internet troll with nothing better to do concocted a video of her shredding the Constitution; it was pure fabrication, yet believed by those happy to see anyone they disagree with demeaned in any way possible.

Friday on his radio show, rock star Ted Nugent said the Florida students have “no soul” and are “mushy-brained children.”

Last week, talk show host Laura Ingraham tweeted a slam at another of the Florida student leaders for having his college applications rejected. He responded with tweets seeking a boycott of her radio sponsors, and a few did pull their ads over what they saw as an over-the-top attack. One issued a statement saying “the decision of an adult to personally criticize a high school student who has lost his classmates in an unspeakable tragedy is not consistent with our values.” Another said “statements focused on a high school student, cross the line of decency.”

Good for them. When the supposed grown-ups in society can’t be magnanimous enough to allow young people to have the stage for a while without hurling juvenile taunts, we have lost our way. These young people chose to enter the debate and need to defend their positions, and their views are fair game for counterpoint responses. But personal jabs don’t constitute a mature exchange despite the perverse new normal endorsed by the Twitterverse.

Ingraham later issued a half-hearted apology “in the spirit of Holy Week,” likely because her advertisers were bailing on her. Her original broadside makes one wonder if she really embraces that spirit. 

The student himself summed it up best: “It’s time to love thy neighbor, not mudsling at children.”

The proper response to youthful activism is to congratulate them for their devotion and discuss the substance of their positions in a reasonable manner. Those who believe strongly on any issue should be confident enough to rely on calm logic rather than snide remarks. Grown-ups who have a platform and positions of power and influence should set a higher bar for such behavior. Yet it’s the children right now who provide a better lesson in the Christian ideals of turning the other cheek and loving your enemy.

We also must remember these young teens are survivors of a horrific experience the likes of which few of us have ever seen or shared. That alone should guarantee them a receptive and respectful audience, even if we disagree with the opinions they may offer. 

We may not be able to stop all acts of violence from those who have no conscience, but we can raise the level of discourse in reaction to it. The British showed the way during the Battle of London when they maintained their dignity even as the bombs fell around them. Let’s not get so caught up in defending our positions we fail to recognize our shared human experience.

That means turning the other cheek the next time someone cuts us off in traffic. Or loving our enemies when others on social media lash out against our political icons or ball teams. And when committed young people take up signs and ask to be heard, they deserve our attention and respect. Engaging them in a civil debate will ensure they will do the same some day when they are the ones in power.

In the true spirit of Easter, we ask: What would Jesus do? It’s safe to say if he were on Twitter, he wouldn’t ruthlessly attack teenagers who disagree with him.

Share your thoughts on this or any other topic in a letter to the editor; you can use this form or send email to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. The Times editorial board includes General Manager Norman Baggs, Editor Keith Albertson and Managing Editor Shannon Casas, plus community members Susan DeCrescenzo, Cathy Drerup and Brent Hoffman.

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