My Apology to Justin Bieber, Sarah Palin, A-Rod and My Mom

[Photo: hekatekris]

Oh it feels so good, so justified, so deserved . . . and in the end harmless.

“Sarah, you are an idiot!”

“A-Rod, you are overrated and the YANKEES SUCK!”

“Oh Justin, oh Justin, you just make me sad for the ears of an entire generation.”

Yep, I love a well-placed jab, a cutting comment or a stinging dig as much as the next person.  And if it could be me that launches that one delectable piece of snark, then all the better.  What does it matter? These people are in the public eye, so they should expect it.  Heck, they may have even done things that deserve strong scorn and serious critique, so they may even deserve it.

Yes, public figures are public figures and it’s fair to say that they should expect it when they put themselves out there: the barbs, the ridicule, the name-calling, but I have a deep belief that for the good of society, we should not accept this behavior as a given . . . no matter who they are directed at.

I can hear my mother’s gentle reprimand echoing as I type this. Throughout my life whenever her children would talk bad about someone with undue toxicity.  Be it politics, sports or pop culture, she would say, “You know, even ______ has a mother who loves him.”  Eyes would roll and we would go on our way, but we would stop.

What my mother was teaching us was that no matter the person, the action or the ideology EVERYONE, known or unknown, deserves to be seen as a human being: in my tradition, a child of God beautifully and wonderfully made.  We do not have to approve of someone’s actions, politics or perspective, but all of God’s children deserve to be seen as complex beings and treated with dignity.

Now am not talking about being soft or silent in the face of injustice or giving up the nuances of playful banter.  What I am saying is that we need to engage in our challenges and critiques with an eye towards building up the community to which we are connected be it a church, family or country and do so without resorting to tearing one another down in the process.

History has seen great leaders rise up over and over again against injustice without having to resort to playground bullying and name-calling and we have seen justice prevail.  In Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech he said,

“Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for mankind [sic] to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression.”

These words are not just about the physical violence that has one human destroying the body of another, but also the violent words that we use to crush the spirit of our enemies.  Tearing one another down, whether in body or spirit, denies the dignity and life that God bestows upon all of humanity . . . all humanity.

We cannot allow this behavior to live on our children.  While there will always be a level of nastiness in public discourse, that does not mean that we have to put up with it. In fact, if we do not continue to stand against this type of interaction, things will only get worse and we will spiral downward becoming a people who only knows our worth by what side of the violence we find ourselves.

We must stay strong and persevere in this regard.  To borrow another quote from MLK,

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. It bends towards justice, but here is the thing: it does not bend on its own. It bends because each of us in our own ways put our hand on that arc and we bend it in the direction of justice . . .”

So to everyone to whom I have directed the nasty comment, demeaning barb or just play mean words: Sarah, Justin, A-Rod and for those times that I rolled my eyes, my mom . . . I am sorry.

I will try to play my part in in placing my hand on the arc of justice, bending it with words and actions of non-violence and dignity.

I hope you will join me.


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  • Jane M. Brown  

    Explain to me why you feature the face of a young woman with degrading, vial, and highly profane words written across her face–how does that really help you make your point? Seems like the same sort of envelope already being pushed rampantly in our society. Not much arc bending toward justice there.

  • Bruce Reyes-Chow  

    On the tactics, Doug, you and I will simply have to disagree in principle and detail.

  • Doug  

    I disagree in principle and in some details. Ridicule is one of the few forms of power available to the powerless. Ridicule is one of the ways that the powerless can bend the arc toward justice – along with collective action, for example, but it is one of a limited number of options.
    Ridicule can be a way of claiming dignity.
    I think the big issue is that, right now, American discourse is so utterly self-obsessed and is anything but funny. Everyone is earnestly whining about how health care reform is Nazism or tyranny or whatever – it’s part of why Jon Stewart is such a juggernaut. He is just pointing to ridiculous things, said (apparently) earnestly, and rightly making fun of them.
    I don’t think the danger to justice is you making unkind comments about Justin Bieber. It is powerful people who are unable to laugh, at themselves or at each other, because they are so desperate to make us all afraid.

  • lola  

    Apology accepted! I love you no matter what! Mommy

  • Neely Stansell Simpson  

    Thanks Bruce, a beautiful post and a good reminder for me.

  • Aricclark  

    We should refrain from verbal attacks on anyone’s person, public figure or no. Agreed.
    I think it is useful in this case to make a distinction between person and behavior. ie: Justin Bieber puts his music out there in the public sphere. It is fair game for criticism even uncharitable criticism. In fact, the degree to which the person benefits from their public exposure also makes criticism of their actions in relation to that subject for which they are a public figure not only permissible, but perhaps necessary. Who doesn’t think politicians should be heavily scrutinized for everything they do which impacts their politics? A-Rod is paid a lot of money to play Baseball so his performance on the field is everyone’s right to laud or excoriate.
    So, Sarah Palin has some destructive political ideas and behaviors I vehemently oppose. A-Rod is overpaid to play an awful sport 😉 for an evil franchise. And Justin Bieber has performed some music that the world would be better off without. They might all be fine individuals.

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