OPINION – It’s beginning to look and feel like Christmas once again. Signs of the season include decorations, lights, Christmas carols, heightened commercial activity and the perennial handful of legal actions stemming from someone’s offended sensibilities.
Most years the lawsuits stem from opposition to nativity scenes on public property or the danger of religious carols being sung in public schools. However, one particularly notable episode of contrived Christmas outrage took place just a few years ago in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
It started when a homeowner named Lisa Jensen hung a Christmas wreath shaped like a peace symbol on her home. Her homeowners association quickly sprang into action informing her that her display was offensive to some of her neighbors.
Citing a use restriction banning “signs, billboards, or advertising structures of any kind” the association threatened to fine Jensen $25 per day until the wreath was removed. Jensen maintained that her Christmas decoration was nothing more than a holiday message of “peace on earth and goodwill toward men” and she refused to remove it.
At this point, HOA president Bob Kearns accused Jensen of hanging the symbol as a war protest and then went on to further claim the peace symbol itself was anti-Christ in origin. When the five members of the neighborhood’s Architectural Control Committee opposed the decision to fine Jensen for her peace symbol, the HOA board demanded those individuals be removed from their positions.
The ACC members resigned after meeting and deciding that no message other than a wish for peace could be inferred from the symbol and that it did not violate the neighborhood CC&R’s.
It should be noted that the wreath itself said nothing about any conflict currently underway in the world. But the actions of the HOA President and a few neighbors speak volumes about a destructive mindset that has taken hold in our society.
Though the peace symbol may carry a negative connotation, for some, due to its ubiquitous use during the Vietnam War, this hardly warrants threats of legal action against anyone who chooses to display it. Those who complained of the wreath’s presence may have believed they were striking a blow for freedom in seeking to have it removed. In reality they sought to impose their viewpoint on another because the symbolism of the wreath appeared to challenge their worldview.
By appealing to ambiguous association rules in an attempt to enforce their view at all costs these neighbors demonstrate what Alexander Solzhenitsyn referred to as a “legalistic life” in which a society derives the limits of its morality from the letter of the law, refusing to act upon more noble instincts.
Why would neighbors assume the worst of Jensen? Why in the season of “peace on earth” would some have so little regard for peace–if only in their own neighborhood? This case perfectly illustrates a growing closed-mindedness in our society that extends far beyond Christmas.
Leo Tolstoy, another famous Russian writer, spoke of the remedy to this trend when he wrote, “Freethinkers are those who are willing to use their minds without prejudice and without fearing to understand things that clash with their own customs, privileges, or beliefs. This state of mind is not common, but it is essential for right thinking.”
This approach allows us to embrace truth wherever it may be found and likewise to reject error wherever it is found. By necessity, any search for truth requires the examination of viewpoints that differ from our own. The greatest divisions found in modern American society often stem from the mindset that regards a differing point of view as justification for unleashing the dogs of war.
Jensen’s neighborhood might well have been a more peaceful place if only some had not been so eager to take offense in her Christmas wreath and the message they thought it represented. Those who wish to improve the world will seek to build rather than destroy relationships. They work to inspire people to embrace correct principles as opposed to requiring them to conform to a particular line of thought.
Learning to see others as fellow human beings, and respecting their viewpoints even when outright agreement is not possible, would do much to promote real and lasting peace and goodwill toward men.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives morning show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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