There is an unfortunate growth of mob mentality happening in the U.S. these days. It’s heartbreaking to me because it is rooted in negativity, hatred, and fear…and that never goes anywhere good.

My son recently read To Kill a Mockingbird, and the teacher in me hoped to have a few good conversations with him about it. We did, and one of them was about the mob scene where the local men gather at the jail looking for the accused, Tom Robinson—and trouble. It is young Scout who inadvertently diffuses the situation by making small talk with Mr. Cunningham—one of the men in the mob. I asked my son why that had the impact it did…

“Because she reminded them they were individuals.” A+, kid.

As Atticus says, “A mob’s always made up of people, no matter what. Mr. Cunningham was part of a mob last night, but he was still a man. Every mob in every little Southern town is always made up of people you know—doesn’t say much for them, does it?”

Getting lost in a crowd of anger and hatred all too often leads people to do things they would never do as individuals acting alone.

I was raised to only say things behind people’s backs that you would say to their faces. I think a similar tenet should stand for group behavior…

Don’t do in a group what you wouldn’t do all by yourself.

The video below helps make this point. It’s a “social experiment” where people are asked to translate something for a man. The “something” happens to be full of hatred and racism. Everyone who is asked to help has great difficulty speaking the words aloud to the man’s face. As one guy says, “It’s very difficult to say looking in your eyes.”

 

 

It appears to me that none of the people agree with the words they are translating—they are actually quite pained and show the man compassion—but I wonder…what would happen if they did agree? If they really felt the horrible sentiments expressed?

One on one, eye to eye…would they give voice to the hate?

I know, sadly, that for some folks in the world, the answer is a big, fat YES. But…I’d like to think…I hope…I pray…that like Mr. Cunningham, they would have a moment of accountability…and see the humanity in those they hate.

And maybe that moment would remind them that we are more alike than we are different. And that we are all entitled to basic human rights. And that if they bothered to think what it’s like to be “the other,” they may grow in understanding and diminish in hate.

I hope. I pray.

These days it’s tougher to have that hope when I see the behavior of crowds jeering, lashing out, and thinking that all problems can be solved by pointing a finger and getting rid of “them.”

Platforms like Facebook and Twitter are a conduit to a more recent form of mob mentality—rooted in the Internet and the distance between the words and those speaking them. People are not literally standing in a group, but rather a virtual, cyber group that has a much farther reach than any Mr. Cunningham might have on a hot summer night in Maycomb, Alabama.

If we look into the eyes of whomever we might take issue with—won’t we see our own reflection?

We are not perfect beings by any stretch. We are flawed and messy—and wrong more often than we’d like to admit. There is no single answer that will solve all of our problems. But I know one thing that would certainly point us in a better direction.

Let us do our best to “look into the eyes” of those who see differently than we do, and let’s speak to one another as though we all had something of worth to give to the world.

Because we do. Each and every one of us. Even the people that drive us crazy. Like…super crazy.

Let’s stop building walls and start building bridges.

(No, this is not an endorsement of non-regulated immigration—I’ve already been misunderstood on that front once. Keep it to the analogical, people.)

It reminds me of what was a powerful, pinnacle, rather radical moment in my young adulthood. When President Reagan—and this is not an assessment of his presidency—spoke to Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, and said,

We welcome change and openness; for we believe that freedom and security go together, that the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace…Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

I’m not so naive to think that all our problems can be solved with one big group hug, but I’ll take that over a sucker punch any day.

And if I could look you right in the eye, I have a pretty strong feeling that I’d see that you would, too.

 

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