A very dear friend of mine loved to say, “There are two kinds of people: those who are beautiful and those who don’t know it yet.”
Sigh. It’s so true.
That line definitely crossed my mind as I found myself on the other end of the phone with the Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan one day. I was in Charleston, South Carolina, to interview a former self-professed racist and his minister, and they suggested I reach out to him.
The Klan was holding a rally on this stunningly beautiful Saturday. I don’t remember how I got his number, but there we were……the Grand Dragon and this peacenik hippie flower child. (All right—I was born a few years too late for the real deal, but I did live in San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury, had a red VW bug with big, colorful flowers all around it, and have watched HAIR at least two dozen times. For that and much more, my heart is a flower child’s.) I was traveling around the world interviewing people from all walks of life about how we could make peace, and I told him that.
“Ma’am, I ain’t got nothing to say to you,” was his response.
Well, for a man who had nothing to say to me, he actually had a lot to say and did not want to exit our conversation quickly. In addition to having a very soothing voice, that day I also intentionally showered him with more love, more compassion, more light than he’s probably ever received.
He revealed that he was very sick with a heart ailment. I don’t mean this to be facetious, but I wasn’t surprised—given his calling card and knowing how one’s body can reflects one’s state of mind. A heart ailment…..I can’t even imagine how much pain must’ve been in his heart to be an purveyor of so much hate.
Filmmakers often need shadow/juxtaposition/opposites to convey the point of the movie, plus I wanted to honor all points of view. I also wanted to talk to him so I could perhaps catch a glimpse of what makes a person like this tick. I think it must be fear….deep-rooted, deep-seated fear: fear that there’s not enough and, mostly, fear that he’s not enough. People who feel that way often want to put down others to raise themselves up.
It’s so hard not to judge people, especially people who judge people. And here I am judging him. If there’s one thing I can’t stand is people who can’t stand people. Okay, now I am being facetious. Let me totally recalibrate that….
My born-again sister would say, “Love the sinner, hate the sin.” I don’t believe anyone is an innate sinner at all, but the thought of loving the person while not loving what they do appeals to me.
The Dragon finally let me off the phone, and I went off to film the self-professed recovering racist. His story was that he grew up in a racist household and received that imprint, well, in the womb, really. “But they’re just thoughts,” he said, “and thoughts can be changed.” For him the change came when he realized, like a bell going off in his head one day, that his family was…..just…..not correct about that. They’re not intentionally bad people—just very confused. They need love, not war.
A spiritual teacher of mine once suggested that when someone really annoys (triggers) us, we just look at him or her through the eyes of love and send them love. We can even do that with people on TV or in the news feeds. I sometimes find myself being triggered by a particularly detestable shot of Trump or Kim Jong Un—and then I stare at the image until he literally transmogrifies before my eyes…..often into a scared little boy with an aching heart.
Toward the end of my journey around the world, a woman in Kenya said, “We don’t love ourselves. That’s why we do all of these terrible things.” A minister friend from long ago said, “If we’re to treat the neighbor the way we’d want to be treated ourselves, Heaven help the neighbor!”
I look at the pictures and footage of the young men with the torches. Oh, there’s so much anger, such hatred! We don’t need psychologists to tell us that these beautiful (but don’t know it yet) young men are projecting their own self-hatred. But as I stare at them, they transmogrify, too. And the anger is just a thought—and thoughts can be changed. I don’t think all of them will stay angry forever……..too many “flower children” around.