OPINION – It was reassuring last week to see that our humanity is intact here in Southern Utah in the aftermath of last week’s deadly flash flooding that claimed at least 20 lives.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the immediate outpouring of service, donations and compassion that flowed to the affected families of Hildale.
It’s no secret that there are deep suspicions and prejudices harbored both toward and from within the polygamist community. I remember well being warned about the “plygs” when I first came to Southern Utah.
My landlord, upon learning that I’d never heard of Colorado City, insisted upon driving me out there, parking at the mercantile and suggesting I go buy myself a candy bar. When I got back to his car, he was howling with laughter at how every head in the store had turned and watched me as I walked in.
I’ll admit, it was a bit unnerving as I clearly wasn’t dressed to fit in.
Over the next few years, I heard many fearful accusations of what “really” was going on out there in Hildale and Colorado City. As with most things based in fear, some were based in partial truths but many were simply falsehoods.
Human beings have a habit of ascribing superhuman traits of evil to those they wish to marginalize.
It wasn’t until I had the chance to personally get to know several individuals from the Short Creek area that I finally recognized how sensationalized many of the claims were.
Any time someone insists that I must view certain groups or individuals as less than human, I remember that this is only possible so long as I have no personal interaction with them. Once you actually speak with another human being, the illusion of them being pure evil is difficult to maintain.
One of the restaurants in Hildale became a sponsor on my radio show and my wife and I became regular customers. During our first visit, within 20 minutes of our being seated, several individuals and civic leaders in the community stopped by our table to introduce themselves.
A defining moment for me came the day that Becky and I took a road trip to the restaurant in my shiny new Mustang. We had just climbed out of the car when a Suburban drove past and a small child’s voice called out to us, “I like your car.”
That’s when I knew for certain that much of the division between the polygamists and everyone else was an artificial barrier.
Yes, the community of theFundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints has had serious issues within its ranks. The same can be said for nearly every other subset of society. This does not excuse those issues but instead affirms that all of us are subject to human nature – the good and the bad parts.
When a true calamity strikes, as we saw last week, the need to condemn and accuse took a well-deserved backseat to the recognition of a common humanity.
The crushing reality of more than a dozen innocent lives being lost in a moment was enough to break through the prevailing prejudices. It’s impossible to hate individuals for whom you are praying or performing a needed service.
Sadly, these outbreaks of merciful charity are usually short-lived.
A politicized drumbeat sounds across the airwaves and throughout cyberspace calling us to wrestle new demons. The forces of division work around the clock to convince us that we have a duty to fear and detest anyone they designate as our enemies.
If history is any indicator, it’s depressingly easy to convince the masses that others are mere insects whose deaths make our lives better. Too many people are dangerously passive when it comes to this kind of sinister conditioning that persuades us to regard others as objects.
Whenever someone insists that we jump on the bandwagon to demonize another person or group, that’s a good time to start questioning motives. Our own motives.
So much of what we are bombarded with every day is persuading us to further someone else’s agenda. Learning how to recognize those agendas and to discern between those based upon standing for something rather than simply tearing others down can be a challenge.
I like to apply Charley Reese’s advice whenever I’m being told to accept or reject another person or group. That’s the time to ask yourself, “What do I really know about them that wasn’t spoon-fed to me by someone else?”
If we honestly admit that we know little or nothing about them, that’s a good indicator that we’re not acting on solid information.
When in doubt, apply the Golden Rule.
Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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