It starts out innocently enough. One little controversial email makes its way to you, and you have an opinion about who is right and who is wrong. The message is a warning that if something isn’t done, all hell will break loose, and terror will ruin your life. At the bottom of the email is the chain link, telling you to forward the message to ten of your friends, or worse, everyone you know.
Perhaps it isn’t an email at all. Maybe it’s a sermon from a well meaning pastor. He takes the opportunity to preach on how the gospel relates to current times, and in the process tells you who is no good and why. You already had issues with the senator voting to increase taxes at the gas pump. Now you find out this same guy wants to allow teens to have an abortion without parental consent. Such a big, permanent decision should never be made by a scared, lonely teenager. The message continues, warning you that supporting this man makes you as guilty as he is. You reason therefore that anyone who likes him must be crazy, confused, or no good.
It doesn’t matter how you get exposed to hatred. What matters is that you recognize it when you do. Having opinions about different things is good. Being hateful toward the people who agree with your opinion is wrong. And accusing entire groups of people, based on the decisions made by a few who claim to associate with them, is the beginning of mass hysteria and prejudice.
The messages come in subtle ways, almost always attempting to grab onto your emotions. They are fearful messages, ones that make you wonder what will happen if. They are edited messages, omitting any sense of perspective, and deleting all points of reference and context. You respond in kind, taking to heart the scare tactics used so effectively.
It’s not that you want to be afraid. And you certainly have no intention of hating anyone, but you’re scared that things are going to change, and you want your voice to be heard about it. Pretty soon, the story takes on a life of its own, as more and more people become scared. Reason is dismissed as too much optimism. Terror is instilled, as groups of people are singled out-and hated for things like religion, skin color, and gender.
But wait, you didn’t intend to be a part of that movement. You were only trying to preserve what was right. In the process, you were one of many who singled out entire groups of people, some who had nothing to do with the fight you were standing up for; nor should you ever have been afraid of them. After all, most of them were innocent, as upset as you were by the misrepresentation of the few who claimed to be among their numbers.