Slow. The. %$#@. Down
Updated: Feb 22
By Matt Gordon
The other day I was driving my family home. It was ordinary: kids were yelling and fighting and crying, while I drove on in some Walter Mitty state—ta-packeta-pocketa-pocketa . . .
I was broken from my reverie and back to the clamor of the car, and the world, by a man walking his dog on the sidewalk. He mouthed words at me—at us—and the sheer size and drama of his articulation revealed that what was mere mime-play to us in the van was a guttural yawp to any outside of it. The man was quite obviously yelling for me to “SLOW. THE. &^%$. DOWN!”
I glanced at the speedometer, embarrassed at my lapse in judgment, ashamed that I stirred a grown man to hatred. I was going 17 MPH.
I’m not sure what the speed-to-obscenity ratio should be. But I do know this: we hate far too easily. And too much.
I pulled up the news today. I’ve been taking in less and less news because—story-old-as-time—I know what it will reveal. Today didn’t disappoint. Except, well, it did. Atrocities in the war. A shooting in Florida. And, of course, Memphis.
Memphis. Grown men stirred to hatred. A man on the ground, a crowd of humans around him. Grown men stirred to hatred. Irrationally. Disproportionally. Illogically. Wait, no. Not illogically. The logic plays itself out.
Jesus speaks to the logic in his teachings. You can punt Jesus—a lot of smart people have. But something rings so true about what he says in the Sermon on the Mount, his most famous collection of teachings. On murder, he says we shouldn’t do it, but then he goes a step further and says: But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
Jesus here is equating actual murder with hatred. And this is where the logic plays out. I don’t just have a life of love and then one day beat a person to death. No, instead I have a seed of murderous thought that grows and festers; hatred is a whisper of a thing that builds into a shout—a guttural yawp.
This isn’t to say that every single person on earth will commit actual murder. But a lot of that is probably because we simply don’t have the time and vitality. If I lived to, say, 500, and was in the prime of physical health for most of those centuries, would the possibility of me murdering someone increase or decrease? Well, it depends on what is growing in my heart (my mind, will, and emotional core), doesn’t it? And while most of us won’t murder another person, the more we condone hateful conduct as a subtle way of being, we can be certain that more murder will happen . . . because more hate does.
I do not think that man wanted to kill me that day I was speeding past him at 17 MPH. But I have little doubt in that moment that he hated me some. He didn’t care what was going on in my life or pause to consider that I might have kids vomiting on each other in the backseat. He couldn’t see me in that moment—I was an object for his wrath, not his fellow man. And one way I know this is because after he yelled at me, he became an object of my own wrath—for a moment, I hated him right back.
And on and on it goes. Often, it goes on and on online. The internet has become this worldwide water cooler, a place to connect humanity across differences and geography. Yet the soft glow of the communal bonfire has turned into a raging inferno. The fuel seems innocent enough—trash talk about sports teams, absolutist political commentary, strident judgment about all manner of things, as long as all manner of things is someone else and their idiocy. Emotion becomes fact, then self-proclaimed truth. And that emotion is hatred. More and more of us swim in these pools and then we marvel at being saturated. To merge the two metaphors: the pools are the very flames of hellfire on earth.
So we go on killing one another. We go on dragging any person or group that is different. We go on endlessly talk-talk-talking proudly, knowing everything about everything. The rage builds. We tweet, we post, we fume, we yell, we simmer, we rage. So we go on killing one another. Maybe that man’s sentiment was right, SLOW. THE. &^%$. DOWN.
We can disagree about much, but it cannot be a polarizing statement to suggest we have to stop killing each other. We have to stop killing each other. WE HAVE TO STOP KILLING EACH OTHER.
We have to slow down the hatred. To stop killing, we must stop hating.
But Newton’s Third Law remains—there must be an equal and opposite reaction. We cannot create vacuums of nothingness. Hate must be replaced.
We must love one another. Loving people or groups that are different. Endlessly listen-listen-listening humbly, learning more about everything and everyone. The love builds. We connect, we hold, we suffer long, we grieve, we rejoice, we support, we reflect, we play, we grow, we laugh, we apologize, we feel. We go on loving one another.
Only then does a new picture emerge—is new news made. A crowd of humans around a crumpled man on the ground. They are serving him. Feeding him. Helping him stand once more. They are loving him.
Wouldn’t it be nice if, from a Walter Mitty dreamscape, that was the world we awakened to... if that were the real world we reawakened.