Understanding, not violence, improves political discourse

Matt Saletta, Contributing Writer

Political violence has played a historic role in shaping the American political climate over the last several years. In all of its forms, political violence must come to an end, not only because it is immoral, but also because it is ineffective in resolving our nation’s most pressing issues.

In January, four Chicagoans tortured a man while shouting political taunts. In February, protesters brought fire and force to streets from Berkeley, California, to Washington D.C.  More recently, an innocent protester lost her life to political violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Stories of peaceful leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr., ought to be a core component of our modern American identity. Such leaders subscribed to a clear and bold proposition, asking us to set aside our anger and animosity. When magazines as popular as Time refer to peaceful protests as “a luxury of those already in mainstream culture,” it increasingly seems that the legacy of these leaders has been lost.

In 1957, Dr. King implored a congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, to “love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you … and inject within the very structure of the universe that strong and powerful element of love.”

King did not ask us to only love those who we can easily tolerate. He asked us to love our enemies – people with beliefs we find corrupt, vile and insidious. King asked us to approach them with respect, not malice.

A common critique of this attitude holds that some people possess beliefs simply too hateful or warped to persuade them otherwise. The lessons of history say otherwise. Look no further than Daryl Davis, a black musician who influenced more than 200 members of the KKK to leave the organization by befriending them.

“If you spend five minutes with your worst enemy … you will find that you both have something in common,” Davis said in an interview with National Public Radio. “As you build about that relationship, you’re forming a friendship. That’s what would happen. I didn’t convert anybody. They saw the light and converted themselves.”

If a black man in the South can guide 200 Klansmen away from the errors of their pasts, there is certainly hope we can persuade our peers on issues in less contentious circumstances. It begins with a simple but challenging step: respecting your opponent enough to befriend them. Only when we recognize the humanity of those working against us can we begin to bridge the divide between us and consequently arrive at a better future.

Giving into anger feels good. It feels good to shout at those with whom we disagree. But where does it get us?

Instead, we ought to model ourselves after King and Davis by respecting our political opponents enough to hear them out and even befriend them.

If you are unwilling to do so because it is the right thing to do, at least do so because it works.

This is an opinion article and does not reflect the views of The Tulane Hullabaloo. Matthew is a sophomore at Newcomb-Tulane College. He can be reached at [email protected]

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