Mud prints on Hoosier Hospitality welcome mat

Many of you who read this column assume that I live in your area. I take that as a compliment. Let’s do coffee.

I actually live in Indianapolis where, until a few days ago, we were known for Hoosier Hospitality. Hoosier Hospitality is a Midwestern kindness exemplified by getting to know the greeter at Wal-Mart by name, offering jumper cables to anyone with a car hood raised, and opening doors for others wrestling packages and small children.

In recent days a firestorm over a Religious Freedom Restoration Act engulfed our state legislature and we have been anguished to see our great state smeared as a hate state. Any potentially polarizing legislation is worthy of debate—civil debate—but this debate turned into runaway disparagement. Falsehoods, fabrications and outright lies about who we are popped out faster than buds on the maples.

We’re not paradise, but we’re probably pretty similar to the people you know and the place where you live—with the slight exception that we may be more likely to bring a loaf of banana bread when someone new moves into the neighborhood.

We haven’t recognized ourselves in recent days. We’ve been portrayed as low-IQ buffoons who can barely string a compound sentence together, let alone tie our own shoes. For the record, we do have electricity, running water and indoor toilets.

Some of the chatter has made it sound like we offer welcome packets at the state line with tips on hating puppies and kittens and guidelines for taunting the disabled and infirmed.

We’ve been slandered, maligned and unfairly portrayed as bigots, unfit for business. As companies, organizations and activists jockeyed to cover their backsides and denounce us, it quickly escalated into a contest to pile on and smear. We’ve even been mocked by a graham cracker.

It hasn’t mattered one bit whether the trash talk was true or not; all that mattered was that the fire burned brighter and the flames leaped higher.

It has been a surreal and stunning experience. A lot of us have been wondering whatever happened to truth.

Truth was tarred and feathered and run out of town on a rail on this one. She was trampled by lies, hypocrisy and hysteria fueled by “deep thought” social media. Yeah, complex issues resolved in 140 characters or less. Perception trumped reality. Facts didn’t matter. It was all about cramming every person in this state into a bigoted narrative marinated in hate.

Image and reputation that took decades of vision and hard work to build were vandalized in mere days. Millions will be spent repairing the damage and it won’t be a quick fix.

For now, there’s a lingering disbelief. It all happened so suddenly. It was like being sucked into the path of a tornado as we went from everyday people to pariahs within minutes. Those winds had the distinct feel of tyranny. That’s a specter you don’t forget.

Why does any of this matter to you? Because it was us and our good name this time, but it could be you and yours next.