It’s ironic, perhaps, that an essential element in healing hate was articulated so simply, so profoundly, by someone who had just been convicted of a hate crime.
“That is not me,” said Kayla Norton, after a judge sentenced her to 15 years in prison for shouting racial slurs and threatening violence at a child’s birthday party. “That is not me.”
Norton was not denying what she had done. She was refusing to associate herself with something that, at least in hindsight, felt so completely foreign to her.
How often do we find ourselves thinking the very same thing – if not in response to some racial slur we let slide, then maybe some lesser expression of contempt for a neighbor, a co-worker, a family member, a politician?
“For the good that I would I do not,” writes Paul the Apostle, expressing the mental struggle we all face at one time or another, “but the evil which I would not, that I do.”
Paul’s answer to this paradox is not unlike Norton’s in that it begins with an inspired affirmation of his innate, if latent, Christliness.
“The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God,” he continues in his letter to the Romans, “And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ.”
Spiritually speaking, what both Norton and St. Paul are dealing with is nothing less than sin, a not-so-often used but nevertheless helpful term that can be defined as anything that would try and convince us that we are incapable of thinking and acting in accord with what God – divine Mind, divine Love – has created us to be. It’s when we find ourselves hating – dreading, despising, maligning – someone or some thing when deep down we know that we are genuinely loving individuals.
Sin can be at once discouraging, mesmerizing, and frightening. But only to the extent we believe its underlying claim. Sometimes all it takes is a heartfelt “That is not me” or the divine assurance that we are “children of God” to quiet our fear, awaken our thought, embolden our efforts, and at least begin the process of healing.
This also works when confronting the sin – the hatred, the fear, the disdain, and so on – we see expressed in others. In Kayla Norton’s case, one of her victims, who spoke at her sentencing, leaned toward Norton and said, “I forgive… you. I don’t have any hate in my heart.” Although the reporter recording this exchange makes no mention of Norton’s reaction, it’s entirely possible that what she heard, and what she felt in her own heart, was something more along the lines of, “That is not you. You are a child of God.”
No doubt everyone reading this article will have at least a few opportunities, if not today then certainly this week, to follow Norton’s lead either in the form of an earnest “That is not me” or an equally sincere “That is not you.” And the effect, although maybe not immediately obvious, will be far-reaching.
“Jesus, what precept is like thine,” reads a favorite hymn. “Forgive, as ye would be forgiven / If heeded, O what power divine / Would then transform our earth to heaven.”