Do you have the feeling that hate is on the rise around the world? If you look at the number of cases of hate speech and crimes being reported, you may well be right. In the face of this unpleasant change in the political landscape, it's essential not to get caught up in hate and embrace positivity and happiness.
But how do you take action without hating the haters or lowering yourself to their level of vitriol? Indeed, how do you do so without putting yourself and your loved ones in danger? Finding and showing so-called moral courage is one possibility.
Moral courage involves exhibiting the braveness to take action for reasons of morality despite the risk of potentially negative consequences. It often involves challenging and tense situations which are upsetting. Fortunately, there are several lessons to be learned from history about standing up to hatred and the people that manipulate negativity for their own ends. Let's examine some of the key techniques you can use to help garner the sort of moral courage required while ensuring that you don't put yourself at risk.
Many people are surprised when they first hear hate speech live and direct in the 'real' world (rather than on social media). They're usually not used to it and it can often cause well-meaning people to clam up in shock. Equally, if you're exposed to hate crime in the street, then you may understandably freeze in the horror of the moment.
In order to overcome this normal human response, it's necessary to prepare yourself. Being mindful of all kinds of potential threats helps you to respond appropriately and support people in danger. This applies to hate speech and crime, too. By recognizing hatred for what it is, it becomes much easier to call it out.
Stop hate: would you have the moral courage to speak out?
Having the moral courage to stand up against hatred is frequently down to nothing more than having prepared and rehearsed in your own mind what you will say or do if you happen to face it. For example, think ahead about what you might say in response to typical scenarios, such as a racist comment made by a stranger or a derogatory, sexist term used by a colleague in the workplace.
Having the moral courage to speak up against hate crime and hate speech is about challenging such behaviour to stop it from becoming the norm. If you witness something that you feel is wrong and say or do nothing, then you might feel bad about it afterwards. Staying silent also means that others are less likely to find moral fortitude in themselves, too. Ultimately, this creates an atmosphere in society where hatred becomes normalised. In such environments, hate speech and crime only tend to get worse. In the end, we all suffer from tolerating it in this way.
“Having the moral courage to confront hatred when it rears its ugly head means the perpetrators will think twice before saying and doing such things again.”
On the other hand, having the moral courage to confront hatred when it rears its ugly head means that the perpetrators of it will think twice before saying and doing such things again. Furthermore, displaying moral courage encourages others to follow your stand too. Bystanders are more likely to join in and show their own moral courage if they see someone else doing it, a sort of 'strength in numbers' feeling. Every action taken against hate – no matter how small it may seem at the time – is a victory for a fair, inclusive and decent society.
Feeling inspired? Want to be prepared for tough situations that require moral courage? Here are five steps you can take:
To protect someone who is experiencing a hate crime may require you to intervene on their behalf. There are a number of courses and workshops that teach people how to by effective as a bystander and to make safe interventions. In the UK, the University of the West of England have been in the forefront of such training. Meanwhile, in the US, courses like Green Dot and Step Up have led to a greater number of positive interventions that stand up to hate. Wherever you are in the world, consider trying out a course in intervention training. And if you can't find one near you, you can find a class online, too.
There's little doubt that many people who tolerate hate speech would like someone to call it out. Perhaps they just lack the moral courage to do it for themselves. In any group situation, including social media, it's a well-established psychological concept that people 'fall into line' within groups. For example, if you speak up against a racist comment then others will probably back you up. Research from New York University has shown that people who use racist terms on social media refrain from doing it so often if someone in their circle stands up to them about it.
Peace by piece: showing moral courage encourages others
Sometimes being an intervener against hate speech means going against the grain. It means feeling the pressure of a peer group and not to act. Train yourself to feel this natural anxiety and act in defiance of it anyway. To do so, it's a good idea to stand out from the crowd every now and then. Do so when it's safe. It will leave you better equipped to handle hatred when it turns up for real. Psychologist Lynne Henderson refers to this sort of preparation as social fitness. Her research suggests that practice and role-play helps you to draw on moral courage when you need it.
There's always a balance to be sought between rushing into an intervention and putting yourself in the firing line. According to Philip Zimbardo, psychologist and the founder of the Heroic Imagination Project, when a situation is potentially dangerous, calling the police or others nearby to help you do the right thing is the best course of action. “You can only be an effective social change agent if you understand when to act alone, as a member of a team, or not at all,” he says.
“Speaking up against hate crime and speech is about challenging them from becoming the norm. If you say or do nothing, then you might feel bad about it.”
Studies undertaken at Princeton University showed that people who were in a hurry were far less likely to stop and assist a stranger in distress. Furthermore, when several people witness a dire situation, each observer is less likely to help. This is called the 'bystander effect' in psychology. When you stop and think about it, you'll soon remind yourself that it's a normal human tendency to assume someone else will act. That simple pause for thought will allow you to overcome the 'bystander effect' and make the decision to be the one who acts.
None of us possess unlimited amounts of moral courage, just as none of us have unlimited happiness. After all, we can all be cowed in certain situations. Nonetheless, self-preparation makes it more likely that you will respond to hatred in a way that successfully challenges it. This can help to make society less tolerant of it. Once you have built some confidence and learned some techniques that match your personal values, you will find it easier to put them into action again and again. ●
Main image: shutterstock/CHAjAMP
Have you ever witnessed a hate crime or another disturbing situation and used your moral courage to stand up for what you believe is right? The community would love to hear your story in the comments below...
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Ed Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.
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