T.J. Leyden is a former member of the skinhead movement, and is the subject of national publicity today because of his book, Skinhead Confessions. I haven’t read the book, but I’ve seen interviews, and I get the gist. He is a rarity in that he saw the error of his life-path and realized he could still change.

Sounds like the biblical character, Paul, huh?!

I hope more people can realize change is not only possible, but ready and available. Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who have no idea that they’re aligned with groups who with similarly categorized hate-speech. They won’t change because they don’t know they need to.

Unfortunately, the drastic groups–such as the skinheads, KKK, Hutaree, et al–do no not hold a monopoly on hate-speech and dangerous group think. Solipsism is rampant in religion (e.g. those who believe they are the only ones or only way), politics (Tea Parties), and nationalism (our country is and needs to be the greatest). Since these associations are so widespread, it seems like things are as they are because it’s easy to think in these manners, but it’s not. It’s learned.

Check out a playground. Watch the kids interact. If you catch them early enough, kids aren’t interested in who believes what or who looks like one thing or another. They are an open community. Granted, their desires are selfish in that they are highly motivated by pleasure, but that motivation exists in them in its basest form. Children learn bullying, segregation, hatred, racism, etc., from external sources.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that belief is selfish or that those who are convicted of their beliefs are somehow akin to hate groups. I am saying that it’s a slippery slope once you begin to force upon others–whether through unfair recruiting or derogatory speech–a belief or method of thinking. The all too common result is the extreme application of those beliefs, where it’s not enough to merely believe something, and we see dissatisfaction at the fact that others do not “see it my way.” When this dissatisfaction gives rise to exclusivity and the spread of speech that decries, belittles, ostracizes, and derides, it has gone too far and is no different than Leyden’s former associates. The good news is that, like Leyden discovered, there is still time to change.

Freedom of speech should have been called a freedom of thought.

When I was younger, we lived next to a family who had a dog that barked rather viciously at us as we walked in our yard or to our cars. I remember hating that it was so unnerved by our presence, and I couldn’t help but wish that if the dog could only get to know us it would in fact make our coming home a high point in the day!

I didn’t think we could do anything about the dog. Everyone can have a dog, right? That it barks comes with the territory. But my dad said something about the canine that made a lot of sense to me even then: “I don’t care that they have one, but my family and I shouldn’t have to be nervous going about our business.”

That made more sense than the right to own a dog.

Like the right to own a dog, everyone has a right to their opinion. Our “dogs,” however shouldn’t belittle people or cause anxiety as they go about their business.

In short, in America you can proudly attend the political rally or church of your choice. But when your methods start looking like that dog in our neighbor’s yard, you may be crossing the line into semi-oppression or at the least the appearance of such.

Does your preacher teach acceptance, peace, and altruism, or is there an increasing air of exclusivism and intolerance? Are your political affiliates looking for reasonable solutions or spending time demeaning the other side and anything with that side’s name on it?

Filter everything.

T.J. Leyden saw the light in some of the most extreme of circumstances. I hope others can find similar change in spite of less conspicuous, but equally dangerous, motives.