Stephen D. Steinour: Different is beautiful: Stand up to bigotry

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Like many, I remain deeply disturbed by the horrific events of last week. On Oct. 22, the first of at least 14 explosive packages were discovered at the homes and offices of prominent political leaders and activists who were targeted because of their beliefs. Two days later, a pair of African-Americans were murdered in a Kentucky supermarket parking lot apparently because of the color of their skin. Then on Saturday, 11 worshipers were massacred in a Pittsburgh synagogue because of their faith and their heritage.

Beyond the tragic loss of life, and threats in each case, we saw a person targeting his fellow Americans because of who they are or what they believe. In one short week, the minds of three different men with no connection to one another were sufficiently twisted to believe that people they had never met deserved to die because they were of another religion, another race or another political party.

Over the past few days, many leaders have spoken out publicly against these acts of domestic terrorism and offered heartfelt sympathy to the survivors, victims and their families. It is important to offer words of support, and it is necessary to loudly and clearly condemn acts of senseless violence. But it is not nearly enough.

Last week demonstrated hate at its most extreme, and we are sickened by its consequences. But for the dead and their loved ones, our collective recognition has come too late.

Each of us must ask ourselves the difficult question of what we are doing to stop prejudice and intolerance before it becomes the violent manifestation of deep hatred. And each of us must commit ourselves to doing so now.

The negative sentiments that culminated in tragic events last week probably did not start out that way. Most likely they began as trepidation or simple confusion about those different than themselves. We all know people who have these fears. They may be our colleagues, associates, neighbors, even friends or family. Many of us have heard occasional culturally insensitive remarks and dismissed them as ignorant, but harmless.

It is clearer than ever that bigotry is never harmless. It must always be called out for what it is. This moment is a time for true reflection: to see not only who we are as people, but how we can do more to connect with others, understand our differences and respect our shared values.

Like many, I ask myself what I can do. It’s hard to know the right course of action; each of us must come to that on our own. Even though I’m deeply shaken, I am firmly resolved to help.

We all have the power to make a difference. Each of us has the power to deliver a simple expression of kindness and go out of our way to show compassion for one another. It may be a seemingly small moment, but collectively it can make a big difference. Even when it makes us uncomfortable, silence in response to hate is no longer an option.

Let this moment be when we collectively decide we cannot continue along our current path. We are all different. Our backgrounds, religions, genders and ethnicities are important to us, and often a point of pride. These differences shouldn’t be used to divide us. They should be celebrated as the recipe for a rich and beautiful society.

Let us all commit to confronting bigotry and intolerance wherever we may encounter it.

Stephen D. Steinour is chairman, president and chief executive officer of Huntington Bancshares Inc.

 

rob nichols