The most important lesson I learned is that much of what I was taught was inaccurate and wrong. Then again, it’s not so much the lesson but the teachers that steered me in the wrong direction. So, before any eye-rolling begins, there is a reason behind this post. This is half rant, half spew, and partly the need to get a thought off my chest because I see people talk about hate and violence and I wonder about their angle. I wonder about the lessons they’ve been taught or if they really know what hate or violence means.
Before I go forward, I would like to openly begin by saying if I could grab the young version of me and shake me by the shoulders and say “Wake up!” I would do this each time an old memory came to mind. Nevertheless, I was ignorant. I was a kid. I didn’t know any better until I was removed from my environment and awoken to the truth.
There was something about the room. I can’t say what it was. I can’t say if it was the men in the room or the hatred I felt for them or myself. I don’t know if it was the ignorance between us or if it was a trained sense of hatred that I was led to believe.
Was it me against you or you against me? Or was it us against the world or the world against us? I walked into a roomful of men from different places and different backgrounds. The facility was an open floorplan with couches for people to sit at. There were no bars on the doors but the people in the room were not innocent.
I supposed it only made sense for me to look for people that came from my kind of background. Besides, what would anyone else know about me? What would I know about them? Or, to speak plainly, who would even care?
As I saw it, I was sent here to be reprogrammed. As I saw it, they wanted to take me away from the only things that made sense to me.
As I saw it, they wanted me to clean up and walk the line. But as I saw, there was absolutely no way in hell I was going to let anyone in.
Sure, I’d smile and I’d wave and I would pretend to do what they say, but deep down, I knew there was no way I would ever allow anyone to take me away from my way of living.
See, this was life to me. This is the way I saw it because everyone hates. Everyone is taught to hate. Everyone drinks and everyone gets high.
This is the only thing that made sense to me because this was the only thing I ever knew. We are all taught about the difference between white and black. We are taught about the difference between religion, Jews, Catholics, Muslims, and then there are the different cultures, the different languages.
And me, I was told more times than I could count that I should always be mindful of my enemy. But to be honest, I never knew what this meant. All I ever knew is my biggest enemy was me. I just never had the wherewithal to spell it out.
I walked into treatment, scared as ever. I was sickly and green. I was painfully thin and smoked out. I was sick all the time, shaky at best and my dreams were drug nightmares. I didn’t know what to expect. I took this option over a jail sentence but still, for all I knew the problems here could be easily as punishing. I could be taken here. I could be seen as weak and dragged off or beaten somewhere. I tried to put on a stroll. I tried to act as if I didn’t care but in all honesty, I was nothing more than a scared little boy. I was a punk kid trying to pretend like I had been to the show before. And shit, what show had I ever been to before? I was hardly out of puberty. There were people in this place with clothes older than me.
Keep in mind, I grew up in a town that was mainly white, mainly Irish or Roman Catholic, and to top this off, I was the only Irish Jew that I ever heard about. The mixtures of different ethnicity was few and far in-between and yes, there was a clear line drawn between all of our differences. You stick to your own. And that’s what I was taught.
I never felt like I fit it. I never knew much about God or the difference between white people or black. I only knew what I was told. I only knew that I should never trust “Them” the same as “They” should never trust me. And I use the quotations specifically. I use this because words like “They” and “Them” are so meaningful, but yet, these words are based on meaningless phantoms and the lies that we teach each other.
I would like the record to reflect that I was not taught about hatred at home. In fact, my family was very liberal. My family believed in love and charity for all. My family believed in the common bond and that I should learn more about other people and how they lived. My Mother and Father tried to teach me that hate was wrong. Racism is wrong. Only, there was an outside world that their lessons could not contend with.
As I saw it, everyone had something to say. People hated me for my background so it only made sense to hate them back. Hate breeds hate and rage gave me a sense of safety and comfort. Even if the mask I hid behind was loose, at least there was something to hide my fear. Therefore, let me hate back as deeply as I believed in the hatred towards me. Contempt breeds contempt. Yes, I agree. And while my parents would to teach me about acceptance and tolerance, there was an outside world that showed me more about contempt than compassion.
As I saw it, this is the split between the groups. This is where difference divides us and thus, behind the facts of it all, the truth is my hate was only a misinterpretation of the ignorant ideas I was taught to believe. I fed into this system. I believed this was true.
Hate is a lesson. Hate is learned and taught. Hate is also the easiest thing, or, at least hate was easier for me. Hate is easy because tolerance takes time. Acceptance takes patience and consists of the energy to learn but moreover; cultural competence and the goodness of inclusion takes courage because of all things I was afraid to be; I was most afraid to be singled out or alone. I was never brave enough to say “Hey, that’s not me.”
I was afraid to be rejected from the crowd. No matter how wrong the crowd could have been; to surrender my hate and take off my mask would be as if I traded in my so-called race, which, meanwhile, I never really knew about to begin with.
Mindfully, I was a Jew. More accurately, I was a self-loathing Jew. In fact, even the word “Jew” had a negative sound to it because of the way it was said. I hated my people. I hated my background. I hated my “God.” I hated the stereotypical descriptions to the point where I hated seeing other Jewish people in the street. I hated them because I knew what people really thought. They were the enemy too (or so I was taught). And hence, if they were hated it could only mean that I was hated too.
Sure, I knew about hate. I knew about this from a young age when they burned a cross on my neighbors lawn. This happened because of a black man named Mr. Praus.
I knew why black people hated me and I knew why I was supposed to hate them. I knew why they wouldn’t trust me and why I would never trust them. The division between races has a longstanding history. The bias between races and religions is centuries old and is engrained as a subconscious bias that creates problems from all sides of this equation.
I thought this was all facts until I walked into a roomful of people from different places and different backgrounds. I sat with them and ate with them as men. I was blown away that anyone would care about someone like me, let alone someone from a different race or background.
I saw the world as the enemy. I never realized the enemy was me. I never realized that I traded on myself and not my race. I never saw such compassion. Then again, my circle of influence was tainted with hatred.
I was placed into this facility to “Get well,” so they said. I was put here to learn how to live a better life. I was here to get off drugs and learn how to live a clean life. I never realized the lessons I learned would extend far beyond my attempts to please the New York Court Systems.
A man named Mathias sat up with me because I put a noose around my neck and tried to kill myself. He spoke to me in a way that no one else had ever dared to or cared as much. His skin was not like mine. I was given a brand new pair of blue jeans by a man because he knew I was going straight to another facility. He wanted me to have something new with me.
His reason was because he was homeless. He never had a brand new pair of blue jeans in his entire life. He grew up dirt poor. He was an apple picker and a wino. I know how I would have seen him previously. Then again, previously, I never had the bravery to say, “hey, that’s not me”.
His beard was as gray as the hair on his head. He told me, “Go wherever they tell you to, son”. There was a life that he lived which he would never wish on his worst enemy. Only, I was never his enemy. I only thought I was.
By the way, his skin was not like mine. I was embraced by people that I never knew existed. And the reason I never knew is because I never dared to look outside my bubble. Or, closer to the truth, I never dared to step away from the safety of my hatred.
Do you want to know the truth?
I never liked racists or racist things. I never liked when people would tell me about the Nazis or how some people would joke about people from my heritage being shoved in ovens or gas chambers. Meanwhile, I lost a generation of my family to the death camps in Auschwitz and Mauthausen.
I was a scared, scared, scared little man.
The toughest thing I ever did was accept the fact that I’m not tough at all. The toughest act I ever pulled was stepping away from the image I hid behind and saying, “Hey, that’s not me”.
The day I left that facility to go to another, a man came over and cried with me. He told me, “I know you are scared but don’t worry”. He told me not to be so concerned with the loud ones. He said stay away from the people that talk the most. He said stick with the quiet ones because “They know what it means to live like a quiet storm”.
He hugged me. He thanked me and embraced me. And no, he was nothing physically like me. He spoke different languages. He came from different places and had it not been for him or the people I met in that facility, I swear I would not be where I am today.
I know there is hate. I don’t say there is hate because of a president or because of a political affiliation. I don’t say there is hate because people promote it. Not at all. I say there is hate because people lack the dignity to destroy it. They don’t have the balls to stand up against it.
I hated because I was simple. I was uneducated at best. I was unenlightened to say the least. And yes, there is still hatred around me. But hey, that’s not me.
I learned and earned the right to say this.