We are not a hateful nation; we never have been. We are simply not built that way.
My birthday was “late” according to Mississippi law, so I didn’t start first grade until I was six years old. We lived in a rural area, so we didn’t have access to kindergarten, but my parents and aunts and uncles taught me to read and write, and I was pretty prepared to start public school. The downside was that I missed a year of socialization and as a result was a very shy, retiring, and introspective child and that shyness remains with me yet today. I still sometimes find myself in the grip of apprehension when in large groups of people.
But there were two benefits – first, since I turned fifteen during my first year in high school, I got my driver’s license at the beginning of the second semester of my freshman year – but more importantly, it kept me close to my extended family – my cousins, my aunts and uncles and my maternal grandparents, to whom we never lived more than a half a mile away.
Of course, I had been driving our farm trucks and equipment since I was twelve or thirteen, so other than dealing with traffic and the various laws, I was an experienced driver before legally taking the wheel. I had the mechanics, the reaction time and the awareness honed and ready before receiving official state sanction.
The point of this rambling story is to introduce the habit I developed once I was allowed to drive to school in the early spring of 1974.
Every morning for four years, I would leave my house about an hour early to stop by my grandparent’s home (which was on my way to school). When it was warm, we would sit on the front porch in rocking chairs and talk. In the winter, we moved inside into their “front room”, as it is called in the South, and sit in front of one of those old ceramic brick gas heaters – but it was always the same organization, I sat in the middle with B.T. Goodwin to my left and Evie Goodwin to my right, my Big Daddy and Mammy.
It was school before school.
From them, I learned so much about life, love and how to be a rational, good and fair person.
My grandfather was a practical/black and white man. Not educated by the standards of today, he was a keen observer and student of the natural world and natural philosophy. To date, he is the only philosopher with whom I ever sat in rocking chair.
My grandfather taught me that I would fail and that I would fall, because all men do, some just more spectacularly than others. He told me that the measure of a man was taken, not during times of success, but during periods of failure, because it takes more character and perseverance to overcome failure than it does to enjoy success. He also taught me that fate favors the bold, that opportunity waits for no man and if I wasn’t prepared to accept the opportunities that life would show me – I would miss them, and they might never come again. He believed that success breeds success and opportunity follows opportunity. The more that you take on, the more you will get.
My grandfather taught me valuable lessons – the value of honesty, the art of being plain spoken, the importance of character, the investment made in trust and the worth of a handshake. A lifelong farmer, he was honest to a fault and believed that hard work was its own reward. He did not abide laziness or sloth and because he gave much, he expected much from those around him – and he usually got it. He paid his dues but always had a healthy skepticism about the “revenuers” and what they were doing with his money.
He was conservative in all things, not because it was political, but because conservativism is practical.
B.T. Goodwin was a determined (some would say stubborn was more accurate) and independent man, tilling his truck patch until he was in his 90’s on top of his four-cylinder, 59.5 cubic inch Cub Farmall tractor. He finally gave it up about 3 years before he passed. Having lost an eye in an accident when in his 30’s, his poor depth perception and failing eyesight caused him to plow up as much produce as he harvested and being a proud man, the Cub got quietly parked in the barn, never to move again by his hand.
From him, I was bequeathed his sense of determination, his value of honesty and his industry.
My grandmother, affectionately known as Mammy, was the kindest person I have ever known. She passed in 1984, some 37 years ago but I can still feel the warmth of her hugs and the softness of her skin. I can still see her small, wrinkled hands and smell the Johnson’s Baby Powder that she wore. In a 1990 recording of our family history by a distant cousin of mine, James E. Goodwin, he described her as:
“…one of the kindest, warmest and loving mothers one could ever have. The writer’s [Goodwin] Aunt Eva was the sweetest person I have known. Generous to a fault, I remember many times she sent food to our house to cook. She never, to my knowledge, said an unkind word about any person. She had a great sense of humor and loved to laugh. I can still hear her laughter in my mind when I go back to the old home place. May God Bless them forever!!!”
The fact that she was remembered as a “warm and loving mother” should in no way imply that she was soft or weak. All six of her children were born either before or during the Great Depression. She had a heart of gold and a spine of spring steel; and was also one of the most faithful and God-fearing women that I have ever known. From her faith in God sprang forth her eternal optimism. She always told me that there is an answer for every problem if we just looked hard enough to find it. I like to think that she passed that optimism to me.
One of my most cherished possessions is a handwritten note in which she detailed a prayer said by a six-year-old me from a time when we prayed together.
I will never forget something she told me, something that has stuck with me my entire life. We were talking one spring morning and the subject was on all the strife in the world, and she told me to always remember that it is much easier to hate than it is to love. To love is hard work, hating is easy. Loving requires finding common ground, to give of yourself. Hating takes nothing but disagreement and taking from others. Love is internally focused, it radiates inward whereas hate is externally focused, projecting outward.
No matter what the political left says about people like me – Christian, white, male, heterosexual, married, monogamous, conservative, the beneficiary of a combination of good fortune and hard work, I am not a racist, a bigot, a homophobe, or any other malcontent – a hater.
I grew up poor in a small, rural, north Mississippi farming community. Far from being ashamed of it, I am proud to have grown up in a family of two strong parents, close to an extended family of cousins, aunts, and uncles and perhaps the greatest influences in my life outside my parents, my grandparents, Baker Thompson and Evie Goodwin, and my uncle Samuel Eason Goodwin.
Many would see a small, what some would call a “backward” rural Mississippi farming community struggling with integration and school desegregation, as a perfect incubator for hate but for my family, it was nothing of the kind. Poor doesn’t know what race you are, nor does it care.
Hate is not genetic, it is taught – my extended family was taciturn, realistic, and optimistic with no time to be concerned with the actions of others and no time for hate.
Thanks to my extended family, I was not built to hate.
And I know there are a lot of Americans out there who were reared in the same manner. We are not a hateful nation; we never have been. We are not built that way.
There are two things that have destroyed both great people and the great civilizations of history, decadence and hubris. These are related, decadence begets smugness, laziness and sloth, hubris begets anger, hostility and denial of reality.
I think about those two things a lot these days. I also think about about Mammy’s words in the context of those two characteristics.
I wonder if there is so much hate in America because it is just easier to hate than it is to love.