Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Let's Make Hateful Behavior Burn Itself Out

There's a concept in behavioral therapy known as the extinction burst:

When you're trying to remove a behavior, whether it's a toddler's tantrums, or, let's say, xenophobia or misogyny, often you will actually see an increase in that behavior before it dies.

This morning, reflecting on the concept of the extinction burst has brought my only flicker of hope

We have witnessed the most vile side of American behavior. Voters screaming "Hang the n*gger. Men shouting "Grab her by the p*ssy" as though it's a slogan for empowerment. A female presidential candidate being subjected to double standards I once would have considered laughable. 

But something else is happening. People -- vulnerable people -- are talking about this. We are finding support among each other. We are emboldened by each other.

You may see this as a far stretch, but I have seen the extinction burst in action. When Michael Vick was busted for hanging, drowning, electrocuting, and shooting dogs, I worked for an animal welfare organization. 

We'd spent decades trying to, among other things, bust dog fighting rings and educate the public about pit bulls. It took Michael Vick to get the media on our side. Immediately after his ugly deeds came to light, the news, and the public, turned to us with questions and sympathy for these dogs. TV, radio, newspapers and magazines turned to us. We finally got to speak for misunderstood dogs, and in their spotlight, the dogs positively shined. There were animal abusers, yes, but there were also people who came forward to heal and love the victims. 

Our humane officer, who had seen the most violent side of dog fighting, suggested that Vick, a criminal and a bully, might have been the best thing to happen to pit bulls. 

Let this horrible election empower vulnerable people the same way. Let's have important conversations now.

Let us find our voices the way the bullies have. Let's be brave enough to stop hate in its tracks. Voting was not enough. Let us stand up for ourselves and each other. 

It is my greatest hope today.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you Amanda in Hawaii for the wise Facebook post that inspired this post. You were my bright spot in a dismal morning.

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