It seems that every time I sit down to write, there’s something dreadful happening in the world. And today is no different.
Forty nine people are dead in New Zealand – the result of an act that can only be described as one of terrorism.
I have no idea what could possibly drive someone to such an act of extremism, against people who were doing nothing more than attending their place of worship.
Many people have written about the attacks, and the sadness, but today, I’d like to focus on the things that people say.
People who you and I know. People who we meet every day. They’re our friends, we know them in real life and in social media. They’re lovely people – face to face with you and I. Most of the time.
But sometimes they say things like:
“That’s not a very Australian name.”
“They need to go back to where they came from.”
“They’re not like us.”
“They’re taking our jobs.”
“They should only speak English here.”
“We should reduce our foreign aid.”
“We should look after ourselves first.”
“They’re all the same, those people.”
On social media, they post racial slurs. ‘Facts’ that aren’t facts, but are racially motivated comments, designed to whip up nationalistic sentiment. Sometimes it’s simple thoughtlessness, but other times it’s a deliberate statement of what they actually believe.
And you know what, most of us don’t call them out on it. And it’s this kind of passivity when we see such things, that allows sentiments of racism and prejudice to flourish and grow.
Why am I saying this? Because words are catching. This stuff filters down into our brains, and more importantly, into the brains of our children, and those who are more likely to be followers than leaders. People believe things on social media, and many never check to see if the things posted there are actually true.
Some people enjoy things that reinforce their own prejudices, whether they’re true or not. And then they surround themselves with others who think and believe the same way.
And from such things come atrocities. We erode our social consciences, and let things slip. No-one likes change, but we live in a multicultural society, and we are the better for it.
We are all human beings. And we should be better than this. Most of us are better than this. But when we see this kind of racial or religious prejudice in front of us, then we should say something and not let it pass. This kind of thing permeates society, until we have people elected to parliament, who then say unthinkable things and drive hatred with their political agendas.
If we can make the choice to call these things out when we see them, then, perhaps, atrocities like the one that played out yesterday, or in Bali, New York, Melbourne, London, Syria or the greater Middle East, might occur less often.
We can only hope, and pray, and choose to be kind, and nice, and avoid hate speech, in whatever form it might take.