It just may be that the greatest country in the world is actively killing itself, and many of us are complicit.

Nelson Mandela spent 27 years imprisoned is South Africa for simply protesting Apartheid, that country’s system of legal discrimination based on race. Yet he persisted in challenging his countrymen with boldly curious teaching.

“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies,” he said.

If indeed, bitterness and resentment is a poison to one’s soul, the soul of our nation is hanging in the balance.

Empathy, sensitivity and grace are increasingly rare in today’s polite society. We seem to be hypersensitive to potential offenses, and we routinely lash out in anger if we feel called out. If social media posts and the subsequent commentary are any indication of the emotional state of our citizenry, we are in deep doo-doo. I blame Howard Cosell.

Cosell is credited with revolutionizing sports journalism. He became famous for “telling it like it is.” His Monday Night Football commentary was openly contentious and deeply critical of players and coaches. Cosell said of himself, “Arrogant, pompous, obnoxious, vain, cruel, verbose, a showoff. There’s no question that I’m all of those things.”

In its obituary for Cosell, The New York Times described Cosell’s effect on American sports coverage: “He entered sports broadcasting in the mid-1950s, when the predominant style was unabashed adulation, and offered a brassy counterpoint that was first ridiculed, then copied until it became the dominant note of sports broadcasting.”

Cosell’s style would be tame by today’s standards. We are living in a “gotcha” world where mean-spirited criticism has become the norm. News networks pick sides and routinely fuel the bitterness and anger of their target audience with blatant attacks on their political or ideological enemy. Late night TV has replaced most of the really interesting guests and comedy sketches with vitriolic political commentary.

We do not even flinch now when our president and his opponent routinely sound like eighth-grade boys in a name-calling feud on the playground. We tolerate it because our guy is not as bad as their guy, and, oh yeah, he started it.

Old fashioned decency and decorum are out. We have pretty much accepted Cosell’s “telling it like it is” as the new norm. We feel completely justified in our anger, bitterness and resentment, and we take it out on anybody who dares to have a contrary opinion.

Facebook and Twitter provide the platform. Our keyboard becomes our voice, and our voice deserves to be heard! Our opinion matters more than anyone else’s, so we post what we think. They are wrong! We are right!

This year continues to add gasoline to the fire. The divide is growing and so is our anger and bitterness. Protests ... counterprotests ... Black Lives Matter ... All Lives Matter ... masks ... no masks ... close down ... open up ... church ... no church. You can’t be silent. Choose sides! Drink the poison!

Is there an antidote? Can our community and nation recover? Can the fractured divide of our people be repaired? Can we live the dream of a United States of America?

There is a way. You and I can make a difference. We can choose to show respect and kindness. A little goes a long way. In this contentious culture, choosing to be kind to people with whom we disagree or may not even know may take a little practice but it will be worth it. It will actually feel good to not drink poison.

Two thousand years ago, a very “non-Howard Cosell” Jewish carpenter led a revolution that changed the world. He famously taught his followers to, “Love your enemies, bless those that curse you, do good to those that despise you and pray for those who use you and persecute you.”

In modern times, it would be difficult to find a more selfless message of forgiveness than that of Nelson Mandela’s life story.

If anyone ever had reasons to be bitter and resentful, Mandela would be near the top of the list, yet he eloquently said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”

Put the poison down!

Bill Blankenship is head football coach at Owasso High School and a member of the Tulsa World Community Advisory Board. Opinion pieces by board members appear in this space most weeks.


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