Feeling Compassion for People you Hate

How it is not only possible to find compassion for people you hate, but why doing so can actually help you respond better.

The other day I was tweeted by none other than Shirley Phelps of The Westboro Baptist Church. She was responding to a tweet I had done about bullying. As a Humanist, progressive and liberal, I don’t care for the Westboro Baptist Church or their tactics. I thought her comment was interesting, but off topic. I was more tickled that I had been noticed than anything else. I mean, this is a woman who is notorious as is her church.

As I was trying to figure out whether or not to respond to her I realized, she only has a few hundred followers on twitter. Her posts aren’t horrid rants, she is mostly complaining about celebrities using foul language and that sort of thing and defending her church.  She struck me as rather human.  While I don’t believe what she does and I don’t agree with her tactics, she clearly cares passionately about it and most definitely thinks she is doing good by helping people to wake up by being intentionally offensive.

I realized she isn’t the caricature that she is made out to be.  All I could think was how sad it is that she is so panicked as a result of her theology that all she and her church can do is rant. She isn’t someone who should be demonized. She is a human, who has chosen to be rude and antagonistic to complete strangers in their times of grief as a way to spread her theological beliefs.  The media attention the WBC gets is really just a way for us to make fun of the village idiot. It isn’t a nice thing to do to anyone. We should not be making a media circus out of their antics.

My heart wants to reach out to her and tell her, there is a better way. But there isn’t really anything I can do to help her. As I was thinking about possible responses to her I realized something important. At the heart of the disagreement I have with her and the WBC is that she is certain that all we have to do is obey God’s will for us in an Uncle Tom passive sort of way.  In other words, suffering is noble. As a Humanist, I don’t believe suffering is noble. I believe that we have the ability and responsibility to try to make things better, not just for ourselves, but for everyone. If there is a God, surely It must want us to help ourselves and to correct injustice.

The lesson in all of this is that by considering someone who stands for the opposite of what I work so hard to promote as a real human, I didn’t do something stupid, or mean or ill thought out. I took the time to think about whether or not to respond and what if anything good might come out of it, not just for me, but for her as well.  It seems to me that if we all took the time to think of our adversaries with compassion, perhaps there would be a little less fighting.

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