Our words from early January 2017 now seem naive: "If 2016 taught us anything at all, it's that hatred is alive and well. If 2017 can teach us anything at all, it's that hatred must be addressed and discussed."

Unfortunately, if 2017 taught us anything, it's that hatred and bad behavior not only are alive and well, but growing by the day at all levels of society, all across the country.

Social media users, protesters, meeting attendees, politicians, actors, businessmen, journalists, chefs, coaches, teachers, administrators, students, parents, coworkers, bosses — even people who oversee beauty pageants — have been caught, criticized, ridiculed or accused of verbal, physical and written bad behavior. Many deny it. Many deny part of it. Few have owned up completely.

Even the best among us cannot deny what has become an everyday topic. It likely will get worse as we progress through election season, as we continue to argue with leaders of other countries, as fear of retribution keeps many of us from opening our mouths in reply.

But we must call it out. We must confront the haters and take a stand for decent behavior. Arguments can be balanced and polite; name-calling does not bring success, only bitterness and pain. But facts and reason must not overlook emotion, either.

We must listen and acknowledge other peoples' views and pain. Ignoring others causes them to speak up — loudly — to make sure they are heard. A 3-year-old who wants a toy can be reasoned with by someone who pays attention, but a toddler who is ignored will scream, yell, hit, bite and bang to get attention.

The poor relationships among us are not a problem that can be fixed, but they are wounds that can be healed. Scars will remain — a good reminder, perhaps, of the past — but we must learn to respectfully listen to others, discuss their arguments, and teach others the lessons we've learned.

Last year, we shared suggestions from the Southern Poverty Law Center on how to speak up in a bad situation. We repeat them today:

Be ready: Think of yourself as the one who will speak up and use an open-ended question to start the discussion.

Identify the behavior: Avoid labeling, name-calling and the use of loaded terms.

Appeal to principles: Talk about the person's better instincts.

Set limits: Draw a line on what you will tolerate, and then follow through by leaving or asking for the person to respect your wishes.

Find an ally/be an ally: Seek out like-minded people and work together.

Be vigilant: Change happens slowly. Stay prepared, and keep speaking up.

Let's hope the lessons are put to good use, so 2018 will return us to the strong, caring country the world has known us to be.


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