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‘Because they don’t know you…’

“Hurt people hurt people.”

It’s a lovely bit of rhetoric that happens to say something profound. To quote my new friend Erin Jones on a related point, “People say hateful things not because they actually hate you, but because they don’t know you.”

And they’re probably coming from a lot of hurt. I first heard about Erin, an author, speaker, and former Teacher of the Year, when the Innovia Foundation invited me to Spokane to speak about bridging the political divide weeks before Erin would speak about bridging the racial one. Then I got COVID, had to postpone my trip, et voila — we were seatmates on a Seattle flight to Spokane for what became a blended, put-it-all-together night Wednesday at the Bing Crosby Theater. It’s a good thing that takeoff took a while. Because once we started talking, we couldn’t stop. And one of the stories she told me, then shared onstage, was about the day she heard that a young white classmate had called her Black son a monkey. Erin rushed home to find her son jumping and playing in the front yard. “Can you tell me what happened at school today?” she asked. He told her how he’d made some new friends. “Can you tell me about what else happened at school today?” He told her how he’d learned some new things. “OK but can you tell me about what happened at lunch?” she said. “A boy called me a monkey,” he said. “But you told me ‘hurt people hurt people,’ Mom, so I did some investigating.” Erin laughed remembering how her little boy used that big word. He had learned, he told her, that this classmate gets beat up by his brother and has parents who are mean to him. “I think he needs a friend,” he said. There was an apology. Lots of conversations. And years later, the boy who said a very hurtful thing was one of the good friends who waved goodbye as Erin’s family pulled out of their driveway toward their next adventure in a new town. Do hurt people get a pass for hurting other people? Hell no. But something about tracing the hurt makes it possible to stop the cycles. Question the judgments. Even turn them around. Not every time. But sometimes. And maybe that’s hope enough.

— Moni


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