Thursday, July 19, 2012

Welcome to my Soapbox


“I believe with all my heart that civilization has produced nothing finer than a man or woman who thinks and practices true tolerance.”  ~ Frank Knox

Earlier today, Liz, of Eternal Lizdom fame, published a piece encouraging everyone to Stop Hatin’!  I thought it was an important message, and it inspired me to write a little bit about my own thoughts on the subject. 

When I did a post recently listing, among other items, things that I hate, bigotry was at the top of the list.  The idea that any person could so narrow-mindedly believe that they are 100%, completely correct about anything that they believe is incomprehensible to me; last time I checked, there were no perfect people wandering the planet.  But, the further idea that this same person could not only discount all ideas that are different from their own, but—by extension—discount the people who believe differently is absolutely mind-boggling. 

So I vote differently than you.  Or I worship differently.  Maybe I look different than you.  Have different relationships with my family, buy a different brand, join a different club, spend my money differently, think, feel, believe differently.  So what? 

Now, I will grant you that the things that we think, feel, and believe certainly are a large part of who we actually are, so it’s entirely possible that if I do all of those things differently than you, we might not be very good friends.  We really might not have much in common that would make us enjoy spending time together.  But you know what?  I’m not going to know that until I try.  And neither are you.  If you are discounting people based purely on the basis of what group—any group—that they belong to, you’re doing yourself a disservice.  And, if you’re doing more than discounting them, if you’re actively disliking them, you’re doing everyone a disservice.  You see, the real problem with all the contention and separation is that it doesn’t stop with the person doing the hating.  It carries over to their friends, spreads to their co-workers, and infects their kids. 

Not that this is news, of course.  Way back in the 40s, Rodgers and Hammerstein were taking grief for trying to spread the message of tolerance in South Pacific.  I’d like to share with you the lyrics of one of my favorite songs from the show:

You've got to be taught
To hate and fear,
You've got to be taught
From year to year,
It's got to be drummed
In your dear little ear
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught to be afraid
Of people whose eyes are oddly made,
And people whose skin is a diff'rent shade,
You've got to be carefully taught.

You've got to be taught before it's too late,
Before you are six or seven or eight,
To hate all the people your relatives hate,
You've got to be carefully taught

The background of this particular storyline is about racial differences, but the details don’t really matter.  Different is different, and those who discount people because of those differences—people who hate those who do not conform to their idea of the way things should be—are bigots, and their behavior makes me a little bit crazy.  As Liz said, we all just need to stop hatin’.

Not that it will be easy, of course.  Some of our dislike for those different from ourselves is so ingrained that we don’t even recognize it as bigotry; it’s just the way we feel.  That’s sort of the point of the song, the way people are insidiously indoctrinated without even knowing it.  But it doesn’t have to stay that way.  As with anything, recognizing the problem is the first step to the solution.  We can’t change everyone, but each of us can examine our own belief system and behavior and we can change ourselves.  Another snippet of lyrics to further illustrate the point, this time from Michael Jackson:

I'm Starting With The Man In
The Mirror
I'm Asking Him To Change
His Ways
And No Message Could Have
Been Any Clearer
If You Wanna Make The World
A Better Place
(If You Wanna Make The
World A Better Place)
Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change
(Take A Look At Yourself, And
Then Make A Change)
(Na Na Na, Na Na Na, Na Na,
Na Nah)

It really is up to us.  No more possible friends need be lost because of superficial assumptions; no other couple ever has to defend their right to follow their hearts; no future generations need ever know what bigotry is like.  I propose that these differences do not matter.  That, deep down, we are all very much alike.  We all hope, fear, love.  We want the best for our loved ones; we want to be free to live our lives according to our beliefs; we want to be happy.

We can all have those things that we want, as long as we remember that we are all sharing this journey here on Earth, and that we’re really not so different after all.