Generosity of Spirit

On Sunday, June 10, 2018, Ridgefield High School students and local clergy joined together to lead the Stand Up to Hate event in Ballard Park to show solidarity in opposition to recent anti-Semitic, racist and other hateful incidents that have occurred in Ridgefield in recent months. While we all wish such local rallies in our town were unprecedented, unnecessary and unprovoked by local incidents, unfortunately they are not.

The bad news is that hate incidents appear to be accelerating in frequency since 2016. Incidents have occurred multiple times in Ballard Park, at RHS, and other locations. Some well-intentioned and hopeful townspeople have sought to minimize these incidents as uninformed or unserious pranks by “kids just looking for reactions”.

The “kids will be kids” attitude may be comforting but misses the mark. As of this writing, it is not known if the incidents were exclusively or even predominantly committed by minors. More importantly, regardless of who committed these acts, minimizing such actions ignores the reality that bias incidents rip trust from the heart of a community, cause real injury to those against whom the actions are aimed, coarsen society by denying the humanity of target groups, and can lead to much more dangerous outcomes if not preemptively addressed. History shows that an acceleration in hate incidents often precedes atrocity; the Trump Administration’s cruel policy of separating immigrant children from parents may be an unfolding manifestation of such phenomenon.

The good news in Ridgefield (and similarly across America) is that the young organizers and the local religious leaders at the June 10 event are not taking these incidents for granted and are speaking and organizing in response. As reported by those in attendance, while the hateful acts were strongly and unambiguously opposed, the June 10 event was focused on education, understanding, and compassion for all, not condemnation of the unknown actors. Many in our town have expressed earnest desires to explain the deep human harms and atrocities that have accompanied the proliferation of hate in human history, and to appeal to and connect with the graffitists’ own innate humanity.

The striking contrast between the generosity of spirit exhibited at the Stand Up to Hate assembly and at the unveiling of the Kindness Mural at the Barn earlier in the day, with that of the graffiti against which the students organized, was moving and instructive. We should all fondly hope that spirit reached those whose actions prompted the assembly.

It is incumbent upon all segments of our town – parents, business owners, civic organizations, political organizations, town officials, relevant appointed commissions, and the Ridgefield Public School system – to reinforce and encourage that spirit in a comprehensive, integrated community program. For this we might look to successful interventions that nearby towns have undertaken. The vast majority of Ridgefield townspeople of all political affiliations share a strong, common desire to cleanse hate from our community. Let’s build on that.

Alex J. Harris is Chair of the Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee, which provides this column.