Monday, August 11, 2014

Programmed Hatred

We had just finished a group project in Junior High school.  Dave and I were proud of our contribution to some Social Studies assignment and simultaneously commiserated and celebrated our effort. I liked Dave; he was a soft spoken, studious, kindhearted fellow and we made a good team in school.  That same week we began a new physical education initiative of a 'lunchtime 3 man Basketball league' with a by-standing team providing the referee. Every team eventually had to provide a referee when it was not scheduled to play. In this initiative, Dave and I were separated; we were assigned to different teams which meant we could not collaborate as in Social Studies.  I even recall some regret that we were not placed on the same team.

Well, that same beginning week, I was assigned to be a referee for Dave's team's lunch time game. The game was incredibly lopsided because Dave was playing against a much bigger team.  One of the reasons that Dave and I got along so well and identified with each other was because we were both short fellows; in line ups (according to height) we were perennially next to each other.  Dave's team did not have a chance; there was no way to defend against people a full head taller.  The other team racked up the points.  When I called a foul against Dave's team, he winced.  After a second foul, he grimaced.  And after the third foul he went ballistic and tore into me: #$%@#!!! JEWS CAN'T REF! @#$%$^&!! JEWS CAN'T REF, I HAVE HAD ENOUGH OF YOU! YOU STINKIN' FILTHY JEW!! GET OUT OF HERE, YOU CAN'T REF! JEWS CAN'T REF!!

 I was dumbfounded, shocked and hurt.  Then I fumed silently.  Without saying a word, I removed my whistle and walked determinedly to the Physical Education office, looking for Mr. Sutton, the PE teacher and commissioner of the lunch league.  The teacher asked me what was up and I handed in my whistle saying, "I didn't realize that I was breaking some rule."  He asked, "What are you saying?" "I am handing over my whistle because I didn't realize that Jews are not allowed to referee.  Dave screamed at me 'JEWS CAN'T REF!'"  Mr. Sutton was momentarily speechless.  He had never encountered such an occurrence.  "There is not such rule! You are a fine ref! I can't accept your whistle.  I will talk to Dave. We do not tolerate such behavior here."

I never spoke to Dave again nor did he to me.  Over the years I have played this game over and over. I asked my self why did I have to be so "impartial" and call the fouls as I saw them?  Why could I have not shown a little bit of compassion, seeing a lopsided game and overlook the fouls committed by the weaker team?  Had I shown a little bit of compassion, I would never have experienced that outburst and Dave and I would probably have continued collaborating on projects and I even might have shown him by example that Jews were not the terrible things that he conceived them to be.

Each time, however, I came up with the same answer: I was not an adult, I was programmed to be an "impartial referee who calls the fouls as he sees them regardless of who commits them"  Had I the wisdom of a compassionate adult, I would have looked the other way.  I was, however, an adolescent trying to be impartial, trying to figure out the world around me.  As a result, I discovered programmed hatred, the blurting out of some preconceived prejudice that came to light under limited circumstances of frustration. No former teamwork, friendship, collaboration or common commiseration could have elided the programmed hatred.

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