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As an American Teen, What Can I Do to Counter Hate?
Q&A for Teens

As an American Teen, What Can I Do to Counter Hate?

I want to do something…but I’m only 14.


Dear Lauren,

I’m only 14. Not sure how I’m supposed to help/make a difference regarding what happened last week in Charlottesville, even though I do want to do something… What do you suggest?

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

I heard two comments this week which made me think of your question. One was a person talking to me about his cousin. He said, “He’s such a cool dude now. But when he was younger, he was just a little twerp.” The other comment was: “My little brother is such a brat.” Those two people didn’t even mean to be derogatory. They were just talking the way they naturally talk, describing other people. I was shocked by both comments—because they were said perfectly matter-of-factly, without the speakers’ even thinking that they were being hurtful and mean.

There’s been a lot of debate this week over the right to freedom of speech, and what counts as hate speech, and what behavior is threatening and violent, and what level of negative speech and behavior should be allowed before law enforcement step in.

I’d say the best response to Charlottesville, for teens, for kids, and even for adults, is to pay attention our own speech and behavior, and make sure that it is impeccably kind. When you describe your little brother, call him loving names. “Sweet,” “adorable,” “smart,” “capable,” “full of energy”…the list could go on. NOT “brat,” “obnoxious,” “spoiled,” “sissy,” “annoying”…. We create the reality of our world with our words. And we create the reality of our fellow human beings’ world with our words.

Proverbs says, “Life and death are determined by the power of our speech.” Our words and our actions with our own family, our own friends, the people we stand on line with in the grocery store create reality. So you might live in Santa Rosa, California, or Sydney, Australia, or Tzfas, Israel, or Wilmington, Delaware, or Boise, Idaho—it doesn’t matter. Anywhere you are, you are creating the world we all inhabit.

So even if you live way out in the middle of the plains or the mountains or in a little coastal town, your actions and your words towards those around you change my world and your world.

When we discussed your very question around our Shabbos table, we decided that in the face of Charlottesville, our responsibilities included: 1. Praying for peace. 2. Being kind to those around us. 3. Making sure that we are especially kind and good and friendly to non-Jews who know we are Jewish (“Making a kiddush Hashem”).

Last week, I watched Moana for the first time. (Great music, by the way! Another wonderful way to bring peace and happiness to people is to share beautiful music.) It struck me that the reason Moana was able to brave the dangers of the sea and monsters and pirates and tough guys was because her family and her community loved her. She had that incredibly strong base from which to draw her strength, so she had the psychic power to be brave, courageous, and strong in the face of danger and terror and sadness. We can create that strong, loving, family and community base for the people around us. And then they will be able to face anything.

If you can help your little brother learn to trust—by showing him he can trust you; if you can help your neighbor learn to trust—by showing her she can trust you; if you can help your friends learn to trust—by showing them they can trust you; then you will be well on your way to healing the world from the pain of racism and hatred.

August 22, 2017

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Visitor Comments: 4

(4) H.E.Brown, August 25, 2017 10:28 AM

I've been guilty of this myself.

Best way to overcome this is to remember the ten commandments. Especially the 2nd one. Love thy neighbor as thy self. If we all kept the 1st 2 commandments there would be no trouble in the world.

(3) Laura, August 24, 2017 4:12 PM

"You must be the change, you wish to see in the world." - Ghandi

(2) Jewish Mom, August 24, 2017 11:04 AM

Kiddush Hashem is not limited to impressing non-Jews

You write "3. Making sure that we are especially kind and good and friendly to non-Jews who know we are Jewish (“Making a kiddush Hashem”)."

That's very important, but it's not broad enough. It's not more important to show non-Jews that Jews are kind and considerate than to show Jews, both affiliated and unafifliated. There's a strong argument to say it's much more important to serve as a role model of Torah-true behavior to Jews. One of the reasons that the community is held responsible for an individual's sins is because if it was socially unacceptable to sin in that way, they would not do it. It's clearly a Kiddush Hashem to show other religious Jews that the Torah's commandments include being kind to others (there are many, many mitzvos to cite here - ve'ahavta l'rei'acha kamocha, ona'as devarim, vehalachta b'drachav to name just a few). Regarding unaffiliated Jews, it's just as clearly a Kiddush Hashem to demonstrate that the Torah includes interpersonal mitzvos and we must certainly demonstrate Torah-true behavior when seen by unaffilitated Jews. Some of them like to point at people wearing religious garb and acting rudely and use it as an excuse for not keeping mitzvos, as if to say that the Torah does not make someone a better person. Let's not give anyone excuses to avoid introspection. In short - we should make sure that we are "especially kind and good and friendly" and corteous to everyone because it's the right thing to do - that's what Hashem expects of us. And there's the added benefit that people will say to themselves, "Look how the Torah refines a person and turns him into a mensch." The fact is, if we'd all follow ALL of the Torah's commandments (between man and G-d, the interpersonal mitzvos and a person's obligations to himself) that IS how we'd appear. That said, I totally agree with your main premise that when we see ugliness, our response should be to clean up our own backyard.

(1) Nancy, August 23, 2017 9:49 PM

Sharing beautiful music brings priceless joy! :-)

I also agree with everything else you have said here.

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