Waiting for the Buses
Imagine this: You are a conservative Trump-supporting MAGA hat-wearing teenager. You go to Washington D.C. for a March for Life event with your Catholic High School. Most of your trip goes uneventfully until you get to the Lincoln Memorial and you are waiting to leave with your fellow classmates.
You are standing waiting for your buses, so you really can't just walk away, because to walk away would mean confusing your bus drivers. All of a sudden, these men start taunting you, calling you "incest babies" and "future school shooters."
To counter the mean words, a classmate gets permission to do the school fight song to drown out the their voices. While this is happening, a different group of people comes into the middle of your group beating on drums. In the meantime, the first group is still shouting mean things about your group. No one in your group is responding in kind.
Chaperones are trying their best to keep the groups separated while at the same time maintaining their location because of the anticipated buses.
The different group of people wades into the teens and the leader hones in one you, the one with the MAGA hat. The students around you are jumping up and down singing the school fight song in response to the mean words by the first group that had confronted the teens. But because the video camera arrives with the second, group, it appears that you are all taunting the second group. You don't know how to respond. You are probably a little bit scared, but don't want to show it. You smile. You don't say anything. You don't move, because you feel you have been targeted. You know that you are surrounded by cameras, and are even aware that this might be an adult who is trying to tempt bad behavior out of your group. You are determined not to respond in a negative way. But because your smile looks like a smirk, your response is taken the wrong way by millions of viewers on the Internet. They think you are getting in the face of the leader of the second group, and the viewers haven't even seen the first group.
This Is Our Problem
We have done the exact opposite of what this teen did. We made a judgment of what was going on based ONLY on what we have seen the first time. We have made the mistake of not gathering all information before passing judgment.
You know what, I hate Donald Trump. I think he is a horrible human being and the worst president we have ever had. I don't base that on one incident that happened. Millions of people have passed judgment on this boy based upon a 3+ minute video.
We must be more aware of where this feeling comes from. If we hate racism of we hate people of a particular skin color, both feelings come from the same place in our brains. It is called the "hate circuit." I believe, if we become more aware that we have activated our "hate circuit," we can pull ourselves out of it and ask for more evidence before making judgments. This happens in many ways. It happens to people who hate police officers, Jews, whites, immigrants, orange people, etc.
Keep in mind, the people being judged here are teenagers. Yes, teenagers should be held to a high standard, but certainly not the same standard as adults are.
There is a reason why we do not divulge the names of children under 18 who commit crimes. It is because we believe that teens sometimes make stupid mistakes - mistakes that shouldn't follow them into adulthood. We believe in starting with a clean slate when teens turn 18.
We Hold Adults to a Higher Standard
The first group of people to confront the teens were black Hebrews. The second group were Native Americans. Everyone knows if you want a good chance of inciting a group, you have a pretty good chance if you try to incite a group of teenagers.
At worst, the teens jumped up and down singing their fight song to drown out disrespectful language. At worst, teens stood their ground while Native Americans waded right into the middle of the group and stopped. No punches thrown, no bad language used, no pushing even.
If adults are going to wade into a group of teens, they are asking for trouble. Even I as a teacher at an elementary and middle school know this!
Consider this situation in North Carolina. Arguably, the teens were not behaving appropriately. However, the white man in the middle of those teens was inciting the group. He should have kept himself out of it and let the proper authorities handle it. He put himself in a situation which made it look like he might be "fearing for his life" or "protecting himself." I think when you do something stupid like insert yourself into the middle of a group of teenagers who are angry, you are inciting them. Cooler heads prevail, and he certainly wasn't trying to calm them down.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, and you are an adult, it is incumbent upon you to be a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Both of these incidences have examples of adults behaving poorly. Just because we hate Donald Trump doesn't mean we can hold young teen Trump supporters to a higher standard than the adults around them. That said, when teens behave better than we might expect them to, we have to give them credit for that - or, at the least, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt.