Unless you've been living under a rock for the past few weeks, you've probably heard more than you ever wanted to hear about a Kentucky county clerk named Kim Davis.
Lately, everywhere I go there seems to be conversation about her. People can't stop talking about her since she was arrested for defying a federal court order to issue marriage licenses. She was refusing to do this because, according to her, she was acting under God's authority, which apparently takes offense to the Supreme Court's recent ruling on marriage rights for same gender couples.
Ms. Davis was released a few days after her arrest, looking disheveled and, frankly, traumatized in front of a crowd of enthusiastic supporters who view her as a near martyr and an inspiration for standing up for what she believes in.
The feud over this person and her actions and her statements has been heated, to say the least. And from the moment it began to win news coverage, it became a very uncomfortable back-and-forth for me to watch.
I wasn't torn, obviously. I knew exactly what my views were on this. Kim Davis's beliefs on God's will and authority are nonsensical to me. I think her actions are wholly inappropriate. And I'm appalled by many of the utterly shameful things I've heard some of her supporters say.
While I heartily support the concept and importance of religious liberty, I think Ms. Davis's actions and words are laced with bigotry. And as a government employee, I believe that her decision to deny same gender couples marriage licenses amounted to illegal discrimination.
I was comfortable with my opinion that Ms. Davis was wrong. What made me uncomfortable was the anger I initially felt when I heard of her and the way the discussion has been largely approached by those around me.
Immediately, memes popped up, mocking Ms. Davis's personal life, calling her names, comparing her image to various unflattering fictional sci-fi characters, and threatening to hurt her or her family. Many zealous religious folks jumped to her defense, attacking same gender couples, and calling gay people the vilest of names.
I'm not proud to say that some very unkind things ran through my own mind about the people who began to flood my social media pages with opinions I despised.
In the midst of this, I was running on a treadmill when a TV at the gym broke to news coverage of Ms. Davis's press conference when she had just been released from custody after she spent a few long days in jail. I shook my head when it showed her face, wishing I could yell to her and the supporters in attendance all of the things I thought of them.
I watched the muted TV with interest as Ms. Davis, accompanied by a number of people whose views I didn't have much respect for, walked onto a stage.
She looked tired and beaten and perpetually on the verge of tears. She didn't look like a crazed lunatic to me. She didn't look like a hatemonger.
And it hit me so hard in that moment that this person, about whom I had heard so much for the last few days, was just that. A person.
She frustrates me. I have a very difficult time understanding why she has acted the way she has acted. And I wish she would change.
But, she's a person.
A real person. With feelings and emotions and insecurities and fears and beliefs and confusion and heartache. Real, actual, heartache.
She's cried because of pain. She's been mistreated. Maybe she's been abused in her life. Maybe she's been abandoned by people she loves and been called names by people she wishes loved her. She may have gone through hurt in her life that I've never had to face.
None of these things make her actions right. But in that moment they served to remind me that vitriol isn't right either.
It's human nature to believe that if someone treats you badly, you're justified in treating them badly back. But meanness is rarely a helpful or necessary component of standing up for beliefs when the belief is truly based in anything other than hate. Yes, it feels vindicating to refer to a perceived opponent in the most offensive terms. But one of the harsh truths of shared humanity is that poisoning the well hurts everyone.
Vitriol stings the target. And it embitters the heart of its proponent. It permeates the collective dialogue and lands on every listening ear, from the guiltiest of the guilty to the most innocent of the innocent. And no one who is faced with it, be it the people on the fence trying to make up their minds to the children in our lives who don't yet know that their minds are supposed to be made up at some point, comes out of the encounter better off.
I have to believe that a more powerful response to a perceived act of bigotry than name calling would be an impassioned sermon on kindness and equity. A less hypocritical method of communicating disapproval of close-mindedness might be sharing personal anecdotes rather than impersonal judgment. And I'm certain that in twenty or thirty or forty years we'll be happier to reflect on how we fought for justice long ago if that fight entailed fervent persuasion rather than vindictive acrimony.
And, no, reasoned argument may never reach the heart of the unreasonable or cause the unreasonable to change. But hate won't do that either. And at least the former approach will let us keep our heads high because we aren't being weighed down by the bitterness of the latter.
These aren't principles I've perfectly applied in my own life in approaching my intimate relationships or in responding to well-known current happenings. But the fact that I've engaged in the more shameful forms of reaction only makes me a more credible expert for this soap-boxing.
And so I'll soap-box the lesson I continue to learn and relearn, thousands of miles away from a Kentucky press conference. And I'll hope that one day I won't have to relearn that no kindness is ever wasted. Even and especially when it's spent on those who don't understand it.
~It Just Gets Stranger