During the Vietnam War, the evening tv news played a huge part in how people thought about the war and the soldiers fighting in the war. Coverage of atrocities such as the My Lai Massacre affected the way veterans were treated when they came home. Many were spat upon, and called names. Most veterans did not participate in such horrible events, but they were treated as though they did.
A few years ago, a man who had served in the war came through my register line. He had a “Vietnam War Veteran” hat on. I thanked him for his service. He told me when he came home from the war, people didn’t thank him for his service. Instead, they asked him how many babies he killed, how many women he killed, how many children he killed. The pain he still carried inside was evident in his voice when he said, “I didn’t kill any babies. I didn’t kill anybody. But that’s all people asked about.”
To me, this man’s heart-felt pain illustrates the danger we fall into when we stereotype people from watching the news media. We see events on the news in which a certain group of people are prominently featured, and we stamp everyone who belongs to that group—political parties, practitioners of faith beliefs, or whoever—as having the same beliefs, thoughts, and actions as the people in the news. But each person is an individual, and while a person may share most of the beliefs of the particular group, that doesn’t mean the person is in total agreement.
Consider this: when we open our mouths but have closed minds behind them, our words can hurt deeply, as my conversation with the veteran showed. Our words not only hurt the receiver, they hurt us, because we give up the chance to learn something or to extend grace, if not understanding.
Scriptures to consider: James 1:19, 20, Ephesians 4:29