My favorite kind of story is one of redemption: A Christmas Carol, Star Wars movies, Lost Horizon, or Wuthering Heights (you have to read the whole thing), to name a few. I spend every Christmas Eve wiping away tears of joy at Scrooge’s transformation. It is a beautiful tale.
Reality, however, is not always so neat. I hope for the redemption of all mankind, but some appear to choose a different path. I’m not suggesting that they are failing to follow the “right” religion or the right god, because I don’t believe in such a thing. Rather, they are failing themselves by denying the god in others and, therefore, in themselves.
The hardest part of the past two years has been the magnification of such people, encouraged to come out of the shadows, assured that it’s all right to be hateful, exclusive, and self-serving. Not everyone who voted for Trump fits this description, but far too many do. Sociopaths exist, as do people who have been influenced by sociopathic thinking. The latter have a hope of redemption; the former do not.
Sociopaths like Donald Trump and many members of his party share similar traits: they demand attention; they have huge, yet fragile, egos; they inflate their accomplishments and take credit for the work of others; and they have absolutely no empathy for anyone on the planet except themselves. Not all sociopaths become killers, but they all leave a path of wounded in their wake.
People who are willing to follow the sociopath’s thinking are typically unhappy, have a poor sense of self-worth, and are emotionally stunted. They are to be pitied. These people deserve our compassion, just as Scrooge did, and we can sense the misery and hard life that formed them. Many who have come from difficult circumstances succeed and become compassionate human beings, but some can’t quite get there. It’s good to offer them a hand, or a shoulder to cry on, especially if they are willing to do the hard work of helping themselves to heal. Unfortunately, some people just want a witness to their misery and an excuse for remaining where they are. It is these people whom we must, however reluctantly, release to their path.
Some of the people I’ve encountered on social media fall into this category. It is an astonishing thing to witness a complete stranger telling me that she must protect her white children from immigrants, because she believes there isn’t enough for everyone. That white genocide is real, that racism is valid when it’s employed in the protection of one’s own. That her children know how to use guns, and that real Americans like herself will vanquish the liberal horde like me. To have other complete strangers jump in and echo her remarks, to tell me that I have no respect or understanding for my own race. To heap a pile of hatred and venom not just on me, but on huge groups of people. It is not an exaggeration to call her words apocalyptic in their tone. My own father talks like this and thinks the day is not long before “real Americans” start putting liberals in the ground.
These people have so many enemies: liberals, immigrants, Muslims, blacks, Asians, the disabled?! What in the world is going on in their heads?
The voices of moderation who suggest that we need to be respectful of such people and learn to get along may mean well, but the reality is that we cannot save anyone who does not wish to be saved. The women who accosted me on Twitter were never open to anything I could say. They were simply enjoying the pile-on. There are, sadly, people who will not give up aggression, hate, and conflict. Our only option is to cut them loose. They are unlikely to have a change of heart.
Those of us who value other people and the planet, who value peace, must continue to affirm these values. We must continue to have compassion, even if from a distance. Engaging the hate will not make it stop. Will we have to defend ourselves? Well, we must defend our values — peacefully. It won’t be easy. But in the end, redemption only comes to those who choose it. Choose wisely.