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As you may have read, Phil voiced some strong opinions recently about homosexuality, along with other behaviors, labeling them as “sin” and “illogical”. Immediately, gay-rights groups demanded the A&E network sanction the reality TV star.
Phil also said some things about his experience with black people that can easily be construed as racist, and while the NAACP has also protested, it was Phil’s remarks about homosexuality that have gained the headline and brought down a suspension from the network.
Enter the show’s fans. It took only moments after A&E announced his suspension for fans to post a petition on Change.org and garner tens of thousands of signers demanding that the suspension be lifted. And the comments being made on Facebook reveal that even those fans who acknowledge the harshness of Phil’s words, still want him back on the show and have proclaimed the network foolhardy. Many have pointed out that the show is about “rednecks” and Phil is just being truthful about his redneck beliefs. Yet, there were not nearly so many defenders arising to support Paula Dean when she was accused of racial discrimination.
The point is that these folks LOVE Phil. And in his quiet, yet staunchly fundamentalist demeanor, they see a man who would likely love them.
There’s the biggest difference between the defenders and the attackers. It has little to do with the remarks (even many defenders disagree with Phil’s fundamentalist stance). It has more to do with the perception of love. The defenders love Phil enough to overlook the harshness of his words.
I often say that if I know someone loves me, they can say anything and I won’t take offense. But if I suspect any trace of ill-will, even “hello” can sound like a threat.
Some folks today do not recognize love even when it’s presented on a silver platter. There are folks so embroiled in defending their own causes that they cannot hear the honest intent behind clumsy words. But, there are also folks who ignore unjust, hurtful attacks on others, just because it doesn’t directly involve them — or in this case, because they are emotionally bonded to the perpetrator. And worse yet, there are people who speak harshly with utter disregard for the affect it has on people who would otherwise choose to love them.
In the writings of the Baha’i Faith, I found this:
O friends, consort with all the people of the world with joy and fragrance. If there be to you a word or essence whereof others than you are devoid, communicate it and show it forth in the language of affection and kindness: if it be received and be effective the object is attained, and if not leave it to him, and with regard to him deal not harshly but pray. The language of kindness is the lodestone of hearts and the food of the soul; it stands in the relation of ideas to words, and is as an horizon for the shining of the Sun of Wisdom and Knowledge. – Abdu’l-Baha, A Traveller’s Narrative, p. 43.
So, what if Phil loved you and you knew it? What if, even if you were gay, or black, or non-Christian, or anti-fundamentalist, or anti-gun, or even anti-beard, you knew that Phil loved you regardless of the brutal bluntness of his remarks? Could you then overlook the harshness and not be offended?
Would that do any good? Perhaps not, but it may avoid some bad. Here again, from the Baha’i teachings:
Let not your heart be offended with anyone. If someone commits an error and wrong toward you, you must instantly forgive him. Do not complain of others. Refrain from reprimanding them, and if you wish to give admonition or advice, let it be offered in such a way that it will not burden the bearer. Turn all your thoughts toward bringing joy to hearts. Beware! Beware! lest ye offend any heart. Assist the world of humanity as much as possible. Be the source of consolation to every sad one, assist every weak one, be helpful to every indigent one, care for every sick one, be the cause of glorification to every lowly one, and shelter those who are overshadowed by fear. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 452.
These two passages remind me that communication levies responsibility on both the transmitter and the receiver. We must consider both how we SAY things and how we HEAR things. This truly is a lofty aspiration, but achievable with sufficient practice.
Lord knows, I need a lot of practice on both tasks. And apparently, I’m not alone.