Our country continues to be stressed by hate and vitriol that during the past week have reached an unprecedented level. For many, this confluence of divisiveness, lack of civility and toxic rhetoric has led to an environment that has bred violence.
Over the last week and a half alone, we saw the targeted murder of 11 Jewish congregants at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, the arbitrary killing of two black people in a Kentucky grocery store after an apparently frustrated gunman could not get access to a black church and at least 15 attempted bombings across the nation that could easily have resulted in having to plan the funerals of two former U.S. presidents and civic and government leaders.
What is particularly striking is the profound simplicity of what truly divides us. It is not the color of our skin, the way we pray to God or what town our parents are from. Distilled down to its essence, there are fundamentally only two things that divide people in this world: those who hate and those who love.
Hate crimes nationwide have risen for the second year in a row as reported by the FBI, increasing nearly 5 percent from 5,850 in 2015 to 6,121 in 2016. The majority are race-based crimes, with more than 50 percent directed against African-Americans, according to the FBI report.
Religious-based hate crimes are the second-most numerous, with 53 percent directed against Jews. Similarly, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 57 percent in 2017, the largest single-year increase on record and the second-highest number reported since the organization began its annual audit in 1979.
Hatred has always been a scourge on humanity. History offers a cruel reminder of its entrenchment throughout civilization and our powerlessness to completely defeat it.
Today, we are witnessing a new form of hatred that is being advanced through all sides of the political debate. We see this through the perpetuation of fear and vilification of those who are either different or have differing thoughts.
Indeed, many of these criminal acts of hatred are not conceived in a vacuum. A great number are being systematically invigorated by a constant drumbeat of insidious rhetoric. Words do matter. Hateful speech begets more hateful speech and, in some cases, hateful acts.
During difficult times, it is far easier to say nothing, to do nothing. Right now, that is not an option. We need leaders to lead. Whether you are the president of the United States, the president of a university or the president of the local parent-teacher association, we must all step up and denounce these words and acts of hatred in our society.
Now is the time for responsible leadership to appropriately message the importance of inclusivity, the insistence on civility, the removal of toxic political dialogue, the need to blur the focus on tribalism and the silencing of the vilification of those with different ideas.
Ultimately, to make a difference, all leaders — or those who choose to lead — must help those with hate in their hearts to find love, and those with love in their hearts to stand together against hate.
Marc B. Hahn is president and CEO of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences.