H Words

On Thursday, I sat in the presence of an apparent hate-monger. Worse, I listened to her advice on illustrating, collaborating with writers, and marketing.

I might never have known, without the intervention of the Huffington Post on my google search. The day has been saved, if “saved” is not a word too charged with religious meaning.

The local Christian writers’ group I joined two years ago, the Omaha WordSowers meet on the 2nd Thursday of each month. They have a guest speaker who provides information or personal experience about some aspect of the writer’s journey from creative idea to published work.

Yesterday’s guest speakers were Lori Schulz and Hannah Segura, who talked about the process of publishing Papa’s Plan for Buddy Bee, which Lori wrote and Hannah illustrated.

Papa's Plan for Buddy Bee
A 100% Hate-Free Children’s Book

Lori gave her blog site link, but Hannah only mentioned an online following where she posts some of her art. I searched in hopes of finding her blog or site, since I hope to stay connected with the friends and fellow writers I’ve made here.

Hannah is one of many home-schooled young people I’ve met that challenge old stereotypes of that method of education. She is (like they are) full of vigor and joy, polite, socially at ease, well-spoken, and most of all just plain nice to everyone.

So the first few sites I found surprised me, because Hannah was equated with hate. Some time ago, she illustrated another book written by a different Christian author, on the subject of God’s design for families. A Bible-believing author wrote a kids’ book about marriage being one man and one woman for life, and a Bible-believing illustrator drew pictures to match the story. This came as no surprise to me. It should come as no surprise to anyone else.

That word choice, hate, really bothers me.

Maybe it’s because I am a linguist by profession and a writer by passion, so words and their definitions matter.

Maybe it’s because I know Hannah as an acquaintance, and as trite as it may sound, she doesn’t appear to have a hate-filled cell in her body.

Maybe it’s because I’ve heard the same term used to accuse me of feeling a way I’ve never felt about someone else.

And maybe it’s because I’m sick of rhetorical guerilla tactics, using evocative words to provoke a reaction and “win” a cultural battle without any reasonable discussion.

People throw hate and homophobe (among other terms) around at anyone who bucks current public opinion, regardless of motivation, regardless of personality. It’s equivalent to creating a minefield around the discussion table. Anyone who tries to say something gets blown up before they can speak their mind. Nobody wants to be affiliated with hate. No one wants to be associated with a homophobe.

The target changes from discussing a cultural, political, or religious position to attacking an individual person.

Worse yet, if one’s intended purpose is to convince the opposition to reconsider their view, attacking them as individuals shuts them down.

“You’re full of hate.” If I don’t feel hatred toward anyone, this makes me defensive, eager to absolve myself of crimes I don’t think I’ve committed. It doesn’t help me hear opposing views.

“You’re a homophobe.” If I am not afraid of homosexuals, if I’m not one of those who says, “Eww they’re icky” and acts all disgusted, then once again I will feel the need to object instead of open up to a different point of view.

“You’re too close-minded,” I’ve heard people say when confronting so-called “hate.” Yes, I think, because you’re closing them down by attacking instead of opening them up by connecting.

That sword definitely cuts both sides of this cultural debate. I hope we all want to be above that sort of thing, whichever side we’re on.

Nobody gains anything from a discussion that never happens.

I’m a fan of understanding, of seeing from the perspective of the other. I have said and done many things out of ignorance, and my responses over the years on the subject of homosexuality are no exception. Thankfully, I’ve had the benefit of friends and even rational opponents who take the time to open my eyes to their point of view while demonstrating willingness to listen to mine.

So what helps that take place?

First, avoid assumptions.

Some hate and fear is obvious, but not all. Jumping to conclusions about what motivates an individual gets us nowhere but angry at each other. If I can’t know that someone hates another person, then ‘hate’ isn’t the right word. If I don’t know that someone actually fears another, then ‘homophobe’ is a poor choice. Build bridges, not walls.

Second, use accurate terms.

Maybe “ignorant” or “unfamiliar” is more appropriate. It’s hard to walk in the shoes of another, and we all pretty much suck at it. So instead of declaring “I know what your kind is like,” how about “Can I tell you what it’s like from my point of view?” Speak to flesh-and-blood people, not emotionless positions.

Let’s trade some hate for harmony.

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