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We Have A Role to Play

We Have A Role to Play - Maria Shriver's Sunday Paper
“Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.”
Martin Luther King, Jr


This past week, hate took a hit in our country in a way that millions of Americans could hear, see, and feel.

This past week, a woman named Mallory McMorrow—a straight, white, Christian, married mom (her description, not mine) stood up to hate and said, “not on my watch.” McMorrow, who also happens to be a state senator from Michigan, said no to vile, hateful language. She said no to a character assassination from a fellow Michigan lawmaker, who also happens to be a mom herself.

McMorrow’s speech was a passionate one. It was a speech that went viral and that captivated millions, myself included. Now, why did it resonate so deeply with people? Well, in my humble opinion, I think it’s because McMorrow spoke up for her beliefs, and also for the beliefs of millions of other Americans who are also feeling the weight of hate on our society. She spoke up on behalf of others who feel maligned and mischaracterized, those who are tired, exhausted, and fed up with what is going on in our politics, in our schools, and in our social media feeds. Good, hardworking, honest people have had enough. They’ve had enough of the hate, enough of the slander, and enough of the different kinds of war that’s happening in plain sight.

The day after McMorrow’s speech, she and I had a moving conversation (you can watch it below). I was particularly moved when she told me that her mom had initially wanted to fight for her, but then realized that she had raised a daughter who was strong enough to fight for herself. I loved that.

That’s our job as parents, isn’t it? To raise children who can fight for themselves? It’s also our jobs to create a climate where people don’t have to fight against hate and where people aren’t subjected to this kind of character assassination. It’s our job to create a culture that’s better than the one we have now. It’s our job to create a culture of love, compassion, understanding, and acceptance.

In McMorrow’s speech, she said that it’s all of our responsibilities to write the next chapter of our history. It’s not the history of a single city or state, but of our entire country. Every single one of us has a role to play in rewriting our story.

The culture we are living in right now does not represent the vast majority of us. It just represents the loudest. The culture that we are living in right now does not represent the best of us. It just represents the worst. I know this to be true, and I’m sure you know it as well. It’s something I write and speak about a lot. It's one my brother Tim writes about this week as well, in his essay below about our culture of bullying and what each of us can do to be better. Words matter. Hate destroys. And a mob mentality—one that’s jacked up on misinformation—can spread like wildfire and take down civilizations. It has before, and it can again.

I remember a few years ago when I was in Rwanda and got to visit the genocide museum there. I remember walking through it with my son and thinking, “How was it possible for neighbors to turn against one another like they did? How was it possible for families to turn against one another like they did? How could they kill one another and go to war so rapidly with each other?”

When I asked our guide these questions, he told me about the hate and the misinformation that grew in his country. He said that at first, people didn’t seem to notice. They kept silent, and so the hate just kept seeping into their culture. Then it exploded.

He said the virus of hate seemingly blew up overnight, but the reality was that it had been simmering under the surface for some time. It had been noticed by good people who felt that, for whatever reason, they couldn’t or didn’t have to push up against it. They didn’t take the threat seriously until it was too late.

Rwanda is a case study in hate and misinformation. It’s also a case study in forgiveness, in rebuilding, and in stamping out hate and misinformation. But what happened there came at the cost of millions.

Hate, mistrust, and misinformation are already costing lives. It’s happening not just in Ukraine, Russia, or Syria, but here at home as well. Hate lives in our politics, in our campaigns, in our schools, and in our homes. It lives in our hearts and minds.

This really breaks my heart. But the hopeful truth is that hate can be exposed. It can be confronted and extinguished if we take it seriously, and if we call it out. And all of us need to call it out. (See the newest Profile In Courage winners who were announced this week—public officials trying to save democracy, trying to save their country.)

We all have to call hate out and work to extinguish it in ourselves and in others. We are all vulnerable to hate, bullying, and character assassinations. You don’t have to be an elected official to have your character assassinated. You don’t have to be an elected official to be taken down by hate. No mask will stop this virus. No one elected official can stop this virus by themselves.

We all have to take a page from McMorrow’s speech and call it out. We have to say who we are, what we stand for, and what we will no longer accept. The vast majority of Americans are good, tolerant, law-abiding people. The vast majority of us want the same things for ourselves and for our families, friends, and neighbors. We want to live in a country that is safe and that works on behalf of all of us.

We all have a role to play moving forward. Those who are white, straight, and Christian like McMorrow have a role to play. So do women like me. I am a straight, white, Catholic, divorced, privileged mom/Mama G who is deeply concerned about our country. I want to join with others who want to play a role. Let's join with those who are black, brown, gay, trans, AND all other faith backgrounds and move forward together.

My hope is that perhaps this speech lit a fire in all of us. My hope is that it made good people—especially white, straight, Christian women—realize that the depiction of them over the past few years is hurtful, harmful, and can be changed, but only if they stand up and say, “This is who I am, this is who I am not.” This week, I saw someone rise above the noise with passion and fire and, in so doing, made some good noise. She created some news that we can all rally around.

Rwanda was able to rebuild because the people who had harmed others asked for forgiveness. It was able to rebuild because everybody committed to rebuilding together. Everybody committed to forgiving and creating a new and different chapter in their country’s future.

That’s exactly what needs to happen here. We all have to forgive ourselves and others, and we all have to come together and agree that this next chapter has to be one that we will write together. It has to be one that we will write honestly, one that will include all of us, and one that will lead us all forward in a language of compassion, love, and strength. We need to rebuild our country in the manner that it deserves to be rebuilt.

Never forget the power of your words. Never forget the power of your voice. As Margaret Mead said many years ago, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Let’s go.

Love, Maria

PRAYER OF THE WEEK

Dear God, please forgive us for the culture of hate that we’ve sown into this land. May we rise above it. May those of us who are good, honest, hard-working people say “not on my watch.” May we commit ourselves to a new chapter and start writing it together. Amen.

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