OPINION: What I’ve learned by paying attention to the language used this year
Our lives are so much more interesting because we have backgrounds and interests different from our neighbors, classmates and co-workers.
What I’ve learned
Denverite invites thoughtful people to submit op-eds about Denver. In the What I’ve Learned series, we’ve already heard from an experienced costume maker, an Uber driver and the owner of a cat cafe.
By Scott Levin, Regional Director, Anti-Defamation League
Respect. Over the past year I have learned how important it is for us to have respect for one another, our country and its institutions. We are not going to always agree with one another nor should we, but when we are guided by the color of a person’s skin, their religion, their sexual orientation, their gender or the place of their birth, it can only serve to divide us and cause us to lose faith in the institutions that have served to make this country so great.
I am privileged to be the Director of Anti-Defamation League’s Mountain States Region. ADL’s mission for over 100 years has been to not only stop anti-Semitism, but also “to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” This dual mission has served us well as it recognizes that the best way for any one of us to live in a fair and just society is to ensure that everyone has that same opportunity.
We’re not a melting pot.
In my position, I’ve learned that in order to have respect for one another we have to recognize that our country is made up of people with many differences. I have learned America is not a “melting pot” where everyone aspires to be the same, nor should it ever be. We are a country made up of people with diverse backgrounds and beliefs. It is that diversity that adds value to our society, just as a painter knows that it is the use of different colors of paints that adds beauty to a painting, which would be lost if the paints were blended together. Our lives are so much more interesting because we have backgrounds and interests different from our neighbors, classmates and co-workers.
Disrespectful leaders encourage disrespect among citizens.
Over the past year we have seen all too many examples of a lack of respect, let alone even a tolerance, for our diversity. For example, being a black male should not qualify you to be racially profiled, incarcerated or shot; your religion should not bar you from entry to a country founded on religious freedom and no one religious point of view should be used to deny services to someone simply because they are not heterosexual; women should be recognized as equals without being demeaned or objectified, even by so-called “locker room talk;” and simply because you are of Mexican heritage does not mean that your ability to comply with the law or honor the oath of your office should be questioned.
The coarse language of our national discourse over the past year has demonstrated our lack of respect for one another. Language we thought was no longer acceptable in polite society has again become part of our nightly news programs as the language of our political leaders has worked its way into our culture from the workplace to the schoolyard. When air time is regularly devoted to those that demean or degrade others, it is easy to see why people of all ages are seemingly given permission to express the worst about one another.
Over the past year, at ADL, we have received an increased number of reports of anti-Semitic acts, claims of discrimination and hateful actions of all kinds. We recently released a report demonstrating how hateful rhetoric has infiltrated on-line communities. ADL found there were over 2.6 million anti-Semitic tweets during the past year on Twitter alone, with nearly 20,000 directed at journalists.
Standing up for one another makes a difference.
We live in a country made great by our liberal concept of free speech. Unlike in other countries of the world, the United States does not outlaw ugly speech or even hate speech. Our forefathers understood the best way to overcome our worst speech is with “good” speech. To promote a culture of respect, we must overwhelm the hateful rhetoric with positive speech. When others resort to name-calling, bullying, stereotypes and prejudice, we must speak out as allies to those that are the targets of such reprehensible conduct. That is why the ADL, a non-partisan organization whose mission for over 100 years has been “to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all,” has learned from the experiences suffered by the Jewish people to speak out when Mexicans are stereotyped as rapists, the LGBT community is denied equality, restrictions are proposed for Muslims and when candidates for public office do not give a full-throated rejection to their white supremacist supporters.
But this is not a responsibility limited to organizations like ADL. We each have the responsibility to stand up for one another and to be an ally when we see or hear disrespect. When it is not interrupted, it is only encouraged to become even more hateful. We can all work to interrupt egregious behavior. Say something, write a letter to the editor, do not reward ugly rhetoric by sharing it. Because the internet seems to be the cauldron of so much disrespect and hate, ADL has developed the ADL Cyber-Safety Action Guide, which provides information about the policies of most major internet providers like Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Microsoft, Google and others, and provides easy links to report abusive conduct. Use it!
Our country is comprised of people with different backgrounds and beliefs. I have learned that it is only through our respect for those differences that our country and its institutions can realize its full potential.
After a nearly 30-year career as a successful trial attorney in Denver, Scott Levin retired from the active practice of law in 2010 to become the Director of the Mountain States Region of the Anti-Defamation League.
Denverite invites thoughtful people to submit op-eds about Denver. In the What I’ve Learned series, we’ve already heard from an experienced costume maker, an Uber driver and the owner of a cat cafe. Want to write about something you’ve learned? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.