By Chris Grosso
Hate, negativity, close-mindedness -- none of this is new. Being heavily tattooed with big holes in my earlobes, a skateboarder and a fan of punk/hardcore music since my teenage years has left me all too familiar with judgmental people, especially growing up in a small town before these things started to become somewhat socially acceptable.
Disapproving looks, comments under the breath, or, in some cases, blatantly to my face, have been commonplace throughout my life and have led me time and again to contemplate why people feel the need, or, that they have the right to cast judgments and write someone off based solely on outer appearances or personal lifestyle choices.
There's really no simple answer. Each person is a unique individual with a unique set of circumstances that has led them to become the person that they are today. One thing I've learned about myself however, and my own judgments (because yes, I too am human and have no shortage of them), is that they're almost always rooted in fear.
For me, I've learned that being a counterculturist from a very early age, or, raging against the machine (though truth be told, I often wasn't quite sure exactly what machine I was raging against) has often left me judgmental towards those in the mainstream media -- from spiritual teachers to musicians, actors and more. Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly grateful for my punk/hardcore roots as they dismantled a lot of the naivety in my otherwise culturally conditioned mind, but I am definitely seeing some of the residual effects years later in my adult life (though adult or not, I still listen to plenty of punk/hardcore).
The fear of seeing myself as a "conformist" for nothing more than liking a popular band, or reading one of Oprah's official book selections, or maybe, just maybe even admitting that someone like Justin Timberlake actually has some talent definitely stems from fear -- the fear of being judged by my underground, counterculturalist peers. Why else do I feel the need to completely write these people off simply because they don't look, talk or act like me? At the end of the day, isn't a close-minded judgment a close-minded judgment?
Now, on a deeper level, there's the hateful rhetoric I alluded too in the title of this article, but before we get into that, let me preface it by saying I'm not here to make excuses for anyone because close-minded ignorance definitely turns my stomach. Every time I see the news covering the Westboro Church protestors and their "God Hates Fag" signs, or a KKK protest, I feel my entire body begin to tense up. Nevertheless, I'd be lying if I said it also didn't make me feel a deep sadness and compassion for them as well because their hate is rooted in fear, and fear is a place I spent the better part of my own life living from (though it never manifested itself in hate spewing ways towards others like the aforementioned groups and people).
I lived for many years as a hardcore addict and have been to some very dark places. There were countless nights I would lay in a dark room -- filled with fear, self-hatred and a disdain for God, or whatever "it" was out there that created this whole insane goddamn world -- wishing for death to take me. I lost so many years of my life to those experiences that now years later, having come out of the other side of them, I can't help but have compassion for those who suffer, which for me includes all suffering, even those who are filled with hate and prejudice, because it's obvious that they're the ones filled with the most fear in their lives.
Sometimes I'll take a minute and put myself in their shoes, imagining what it must be like to lay their head down each night, filled with so much anger, hatred and fear. I'm sure the majority of it for these people is on a subconscious level, but still, it's there and weather they realize it or not, it's making their lives what I could only imagine to be a complete living hell.
When I sincerely try to envision the scared inner child housed inside of these people, it becomes virtually impossible for me to muster any judgments to cast back on them, no matter how much I disagree with their viewpoints and beliefs because as crazy as this may sound, all I'm left with is the desire to hug every single one of them. Instead of meeting others fear and hatred with my own fear and hatred, I'd much rather look them in the eyes with compassionate understanding and tell them it's going to be okay -- that we've all suffered, and in varying degrees, we all still hurt and suffer.
Maybe some of you believe I'm naïve for thinking like this, and who knows, maybe I am, but this is what's in my heart. And if there's one thing I've learned in life, it's that when I quiet my mind and allow my heart to do the talking, it's always becomes about love and compassion rather than separation and fear.