Overcoming hatred with compassion and education

In October there were several "hate crimes" on our campus. Racial and homophobic slurs were painted on peoples door, and one of our faculty was attacked up at the Killington campus by an unknown assailant or screamed gay slurs during the attack.

Social injustices are happening every day in all communities all around the world. Some injustices may seem relatively graver than others, but all are similar in that the victims are treated unfairly and are deeply disrespected. The recent hate crimes on our own campus where racial and homophobic slurs were painted across residence hall walls was an ugly wake-up call for me. Even the most intimate communities like Green Mountain College have their dark sides.

After my initial feelings of confusion and anger subsided I was left wondering: Why does it take such blunt and brutal circumstances to get my attention? And more importantly: What can an individual like myself do in the aftermath of such hatred?

I must admit that sometimes I am so comfortable here at Green Mountain (and in Vermont in general) that the struggles of others seems distant and almost unreal. Being a community member on this idyllic campus I oftentimes feel like I’m curled up on one of those sunny windowsill seats, sitting comfortably inside and separated safely by the windowpane while watching events unfold outside. And except for these recent hate crimes, I stick to my description of Green Mountain as a “comfortable nook in a crazy world.”

This feeling of separation from the outside world is a general sentiment amongst many community members here. Being somewhat separated from the negativity and craziness of the outside world is both good and bad, but it is essentially what drew me to first Vermont, and then Green Mountain College.

The separation is beneficial, especially in an academic setting, because it provides us with a safe and beautiful place to learn and grow. Within classrooms or out in the field we can study and discuss important global issues without being completely or directly affected by the problems. We cannot learn about war and solutions to ending war if there are bombs going off around us. I view Green Mountain essentially as a safe haven, an environment that allows us to understand the world and how we can become positive contributors to society.

The social atmosphere at Green Mountain is similar to the academic world—both support the growth of positive people. I’ve hung out with a lot of different folks from colleges all across the country, but I am being completely honest when I tell you that Green Mountain people are some of the kindest and most unique that I’ve met. Not only are we unique, but we embrace and love each other for these differences. We are revolutionaries, seeking ways to change the world for the better. This was most recently exemplified in the astounding turnout of Green Mountain students and graduates at the Boston anti-war rally on October 27. Seeking each other out of the vast crowd like we so often do at concerts and festivals, we rallied for peace and justice through the streets of Boston as a Green Mountain collective—a strong and positive representation of the college.

With this sort of optimistic outlook on Green Mountain, the recent hate crimes here came as a sickening shock to me. I still cannot fathom or understand the sort of darkness and hatred shown in these crimes. And as much as I want to cherish the somewhat utopic qualities of this college, these ugly acts cannot be brushed aside or swept under the rug. Instead we need to use them as a reminder that there is human suffering even in the happiest of places. Hatred and evil are ugly aspects of humans, but without them we wouldn’t feel love or kindness for lack of comparison.

But why did it take such horrific incidents to remind me about such social injustices? Those targeted in these hate crimes (homosexuals and blacks) struggle daily for equality and respect, so why do I wait until something really bad happens to write about it? Can it be that comfort breeds apathy? Do humans have to be directly affected by something before they take any action? If this is so, then living in this “bucolic bubble” at Green Mountain may be more dangerous than we realize.

It is very easy to hide from overwhelming problems when we are too comfortable. It happens everyday when millions of privileged people ignore the struggles of the less fortunate. The hate crimes at Green Mountain were a wake up call for me. Do I really want to live my life in ignorant bliss? Of course not. How unfulfilled, naïve and pathetic I would feel if I allowed myself to forget about important social justice issues.
To be a truly conscious, active and understanding human in this world it takes dedication and commitment. It requires open eyes, open ears, an open mouth, and most importantly an open mind.
We must strive to be engaged in our local and global community, which requires some sort of effort to follow “current events.” Whether you get your news from a newspaper, online, through television or radio, it’s important that you make the effort to educate yourself about newsworthy issues.

Of course in a society where the media is owned by only about 6 major corporations, we must also be wary of what they tell us is “newsworthy” (however this is a topic for another article). Just try to keep an open mind when reading the news, and always remain curious. What is the bigger picture? How can you better understand what is happening? There is always more to the story.

Furthermore, wherever we get our news and however far we go to seek the truth, none of it matters if we don’t talk about it and try to change things for the better. Depending on the type of person you are, Green Mountain can be a bubble where you hide from and ignore problems or it can be a bubble where you are safe to learn about problems and where you fit into the solution. And in the case of these recent events, they serve as a reminder that there is evil everywhere, even inside bubbles, and that we must strive to overcome that.
But how do we change things for the better? How can we combat all this evil we face in the world? The best answer I have is: through love and compassion. Educating yourself on the struggles of others is part of the solution ... but being kind and compassionate towards all beings is what really matters and what inspires change. Compassion is about relieving other’s sufferings. Through selfless acts we can do this. It doesn’t take a lot ... a smile, kind words, good thoughts.

You may not realize it, or you may not even believe it, but if you strive to be happy and kind, your warm energy radiates and others will follow in your footsteps. Doing good is contagious. Haven’t you ever felt more peaceful by just being in someone’s warm presence? Haven’t you had a good deed done unto you and it made you want to do something kind for someone else? This is what I am talking about!

Darren Marcy