I have listened a lot in the last few days.
I have listened to a lot of opinions on a lot of different things since the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I have opinions on a lot of things, most of which I will keep to myself because they aren’t important.
I will address some things, however, and I will start with a story.
One summer when I was an elementary school student, my family took a vacation.
A lot of firsts in my life happened on the trip.
It was the first time I travelled above the Mason-Dixon line.
It was the first time I travelled with 22 other people in a charter bus.
It was the first time I travelled anywhere in a vehicle equipped with a bathroom.
It was the first time I learned why traveling in a vehicle with 22 other people and one bathroom is something one should do at his or her own risk.
It was the first time I bought a slingshot in a general store. It was first time I saw the Attitude Adjuster — a thick, wooden paddle which lived up to its name each one of the many times it met my backside.
It was the first time I heard someone call Coke “pop.” I was incredibly confused, and “pop” still catches me off guard.
It was the first time I saw Amish people. It was the first time I met an Amish girl.
She wore a long, blue dress. She had blue eyes, and her blonde hair was tucked beneath a white bonnet.
I met her at a buffet. I never saw her again, but sometimes I wonder how her life has turned out.
The trip was also the first time I went to Gettysburg.
It was the first time I was able to visualize what happened there 154 years ago, and it was the first time my interest in the Civil War was sparked.
We had a tour guide who explained the battle as we walked across the park.
He knew we were from Alabama so he took us to Little Round Top, where the 20th Maine regiment withstood charges from the 15th Alabama on July 2, 1863, and maintained control of the hill after close combat.
We walked where soldiers walked. We saw where they bled, and we stared at the earth where many drew their final breath.
The trip was memorable in a lot of ways.
It also led to the opportunity to learn a lesson I needed to learn early in life, and it’s a lesson I have never forgotten.
I’m not writing this to share my stance on the Confederate battle flag, monuments or any tangible thing made by human hands.
I’m not writing this to talk about politics.
I want to talk about hate.
I want to address racism and prejudice.
I want to talk about people, because they are at the heart of what happened in Charlottesville just as they were at the heart of the lesson I learned when I was a boy.
After I returned from Pennsylvania and went back to school, I continued to soak up information about the war.
History fascinated me. It still does.
While I learned, I looked around.
Some of the kids who were at school with me wore shirts with the Confederate battle flag on them.
I wanted one of those shirts.
Mama wouldn’t let me have one, no matter how much I pleaded my case.
I asked her why.
I don’t remember her exact reply, but I remember she told me the flag meant something different to a lot of people than it meant to me.
She told me some people didn’t see history when they saw the flag on those kids’ shirts. She told me some people see a symbol of hate and hurt.
She told me her son didn’t need to wear a shirt some people might be hurt by, even if I saw it as historical.
I never got one of those shirts, and I never wanted one after Mama explained my way of seeing things isn’t the only way to see things in the world.
I learned about why it’s important to pick my battles.
I grew, and I learned about more battles.
I read a diary written by a girl. She wasn’t much older than I was when she wrote it, but she was a good writer.
I read how war surrounded her life, how it forced her to live her life within walls and how her life was eventually extinguished.
I learned her name. I learned who she was. I learned there were millions of other people like her.
I learned hatred killed all of them.
I could not fathom how one man’s idiotic, delusional belief he was better than someone else because they were Jewish could spread as it did.
I couldn’t fathom why it could lead someone to take a person’s name and replace it with a number, which was tattooed on their arm for the rest of their days.
I could not fathom how it could lead people to rip fathers from their families and put them into camps, or tear mothers from their children and put them into gas chambers.
I couldn’t fathom how it could lead to people’s naked corpses thrown on top of one another and burned until the only things left of them were memories and piles of old shoes.
I couldn’t fathom it, but I knew it was wrong. I knew it was evil.
The older I got, the more I learned.
There were more things I failed to fathom, and fail to fathom still.
One is how someone could own someone else, how someone could put someone else in chains and sell him or her as a piece of property.
I couldn’t understand why a person was ever recognized as only 3/5 of one.
I couldn’t understand why anyone felt the need to put stripes across someone else’s back so they’d wear them for a lifetime.
I can’t understand why there were once different seating areas for people based on the shade of their skin.
I can’t understand why a woman was arrested because of where she sat on a bus.
I can’t understand why some children had to go to different schools, eat in different restaurants or drink from different water fountains.
I can’t understand why they were beaten, bitten by dogs or faced firehoses because they weren’t white.
My parents remember some details of those days. I am glad those days are gone.
I am also glad I learned the reason they happened.
The dictionary defines racism as, “a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human racial groups determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to dominate others or that a particular racial group is inferior to the others.”
It is also “hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”
I know there are people today who believe they are superior to others because of their race, and people of other races are inferior to them.
They are racist and wrong.
I believe what happened in Charlottesville was a terrorist attack rooted in racism.
I believe anyone who hates other people or deems them inferior because of their race or the color of their skin is racist and wrong, no matter the group to which they are attached.
When I learned about racism, I also learned about prejudice.
Prejudice is defined as, “an unfavorable opinion or feeling formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought, or reason.”
It can also be, “unreasonable feelings, opinions, or attitudes, especially of a hostile nature, regarding an ethnic, racial, social, or religious group.”
I can honestly say I have never considered myself superior to anyone else on any racial basis, but I am far from a spotless lamb.
I can also honestly say I have had a problem with prejudices at times, despite the fact I was blessed to be able to attend school with people of different colors and creeds.
One scroll through my Facebook or Twitter feeds shows me I am not alone and all kinds of prejudices exist, though it provides me no personal comfort.
I am not proud to admit my own struggle with prejudices, but I am proud to say I continue to work to abolish them in my heart and life.
I think it’s time to be honest. I think it’s time to call a spade a spade.
I personally believe the hate, racism and prejudice prevalent today and in the past are problems of the heart.
Simply put, I believe the problem is sin.
I believe God created one race, the human race, which has become marvelously and beautifully diverse through the ages.
I believe sin has divided it and set people against one another.
I believe sin is the source of the prejudice, racism and hate we saw in Charlottesville as well as other places in the United States.
I believe such hate can be healed only by Jesus.
I could never put a stop to my prejudice on my own, but He works on my heart to help me see everyone as He sees them and love everyone as He loves them.
I am not perfect, and I am no better than anyone else.
There are still situations, statements and standards I don’t understand. I suppose I will never understand them.
I do understand there are those who do not agree with what I believe is the root of what we saw in Charlottesville or what I believe is the way to heal the hate in the world.
I respect their opinion and their right to disagree with me.
I disagree with a lot of people on a lot of things, but I do not hate those with whom I disagree.
I believe the ability to respectfully disagree and discuss issues is more crucial today than it has ever been.
Yesterday, someone broadcasted their opinion on Confederate monuments on the Internet, and I listened.
He made plenty of great points and provided a solid argument.
For the most part, I agreed.
He also said — at least the way I heard it — it looks racist if a white person is quiet when something like we have seen in Charlottesville happens.
I understood his point, but I had a little bit of a hard time with the statement.
Mark Twain once said, “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to open it and remove all doubt.”
Twain’s quote is the reason I keep a lot of opinions to myself.
It’s the reason I simply scroll past a lot of things on social media.
I could not scroll past Charlottesville.
The journalist in me told me to write about it, but it’s not the only reason I did.
I’m not sure why or if anyone will care what I have to say, but I felt I needed to say it because I am human.
I also felt I could not simply rattle off a reaction so I stayed quiet.
I took a long look at myself, because I wanted to be honest.
I wanted to listen to reduce the chance I sounded like a fool.
Maybe I still sound like one.
I don’t always do right. I don’t always take time to listen before I speak.
I can’t help but wonder, though, what might happen if we tried to build each other up more in life and on social media.
I wonder what good might come if we take time to put Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream into practice and look at the content of a person’s character instead of the color of their skin, as he said.
I can’t control the way any other person — past, present or future — thinks or acts.
I can control myself.
I choose to try to speak the truth in love when I open my mouth or type on my keyboard.
I have failed before, and I will fail again.
Despite my failures, I will always believe King was absolutely right when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Real change will not come from any attack, or from protests which become violent.
It will come when we make a choice to listen to one another, learn not to demean differences and love like we all have humanity in common.