You can never undo the damage
By Bentley de Bardelaben
Conservative media host Rush Limbaugh has made national news for provocative and misogynistic comments he made about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke. Ms. Fluke recently spoke before members of the House of Representatives about why she believed insurance coverage for contraception was essential for women’s overall healthcare. About one month ago, CNN’s Roland Martin tweeted an incendiary and homophobic comment during the Super Bowl about men who may have found appealing an ad featuring soccer player David Beckham in his underwear. And nearly 18 months ago, Dr. Laura Schlessinger found herself in a kerfuffle when she went into a racist rant shouting the” N-word” 11 times within five minutes to an African-American female caller.
Fortunately each offender did apologize, but not before suffering some form of push back from the general public that they are well compensated to serve. To date, Rush has lost dozens of program sponsors and counting. Roland is on indefinite suspension from any CNN broadcast. And Dr. Laura, citing the violation of her “First Amendment Rights,” lost sponsors as well and decided to end her show after her contract expired.
Apart from the horrors of chattel slavery when bullying was legal, at what stage did we decide that bullying or shaming other human beings is permissible? As citizens of a 21st century society, have we not yet learned this crucial lesson?
As an ordained minister, I am vastly aware that “be kind” is still a message taught in many homes, schools and religious buildings across the globe. As a child I heard similar sayings from my family, my elementary and Sunday school teachers who understood their role in shaping behavior around public discourse. For example, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Or, “Do unto others as you would want them to do unto you.”
Now I am certainly not a person who would be described by others as prudish. However, although I have made my fair share of mistakes in relating to others, I must realize that I am solely responsible for my actions—positive or negative, as are the individuals cited above. I believe they also know this to be fact.
As a person who has spent countless hours as a diversity trainer, I understand that once an action has harmed another’s heart and soul, you can never undo the damage. The bottom line is bullying or shaming others is never cool! It is perversely cruel. It is detrimental to the spirits of both parties. And the cost of such behavior can hurt the wounded person for years.
As adults we can learn skills to get through these dark, sick moments. Our children, on the other hand, are not so well equipped. Therefore, let us step up as adults and leaders to counter hate messages that undermine others, no matter where the messages originate and to whom they are launched.
Together we must demand better from ourselves, our families, and our leaders no matter our race, gender, sexual orientation or political affiliation. Remember, each first step toward the change we seek begins with ourselves.
Bentley de Bardelaben serves in Justice Ministries for the United Church of Christ.