Two major events have occurred over the past few weeks that have one thing in common – both were fueled by fear and ignorance. Misinformation overcame facts, fear overcame concern for one’s fellow human being. The first event was Donald Trump’s rise to being the Republican nominee for President of the United States. (Just typing that sentence caused the hair on my neck to stand). The second event was Britain voting to separate from the EU by 52 to 48 per cent .
The fear of immigrants, especially Muslims, was a primary factor in both of these decisions. Mr. “Build a Wall”, based a large part of his campaign on promoting the idea that America is under siege and we need to essentially close our borders. The pro “Brexit” proponents used the fear of refugees to convince many to vote for separation. This statement as to why some Brits voted to leave the EU could as easily apply to why some supported Trump’s rhetoric about our immigrants – “They played up fears of ISIS attacks, of over-burdened schools and hospitals, of moms, dads, brothers, sisters, children, and grandchildren forced to miss out on their rightful and paid-for state support, edged out by newly arrived migrants hungry for handouts and everything for free.”(CNN) The truth of how both countries benefit from immigrants was lost. It is almost laughable in the U.S. to hear immigrants denigrated when all of us, unless you are Native American, are immigrants.
Trump touts the slogan, “Make America Great Again”, while the pro Brexit side shouted “Bring back the Britain of our memories”. Both of these sound good, but what do they even mean? Trump’s verbiage makes it sound as if we are not great. Au contraire, Sir Donald. Currently we have the lowest uninsured rate for health care ever recorded, an unemployment rate below five percent, and the longest streak of private-sector job growth on record, all while cutting the deficit by two-thirds. We have the best military in the world, the strongest economy, and one of the most diverse populations. Oh, maybe that last one is the reason for the cry from Trumpites and Brexitites.
Blaming others for your problems is easy. Tossing out labels to dehumanize people is easy. Spouting bumper sticker slogans is easy. Creating fear with ignorance is easy. Taking the time to find the truth, caring for your neighbor, respecting one another, listening to all sides, being willing to stand together as human beings — all take love and intelligence.
So far, fear and ignorance leads love and intelligence 2 – 0, let’s just hope the game isn’t over.
11. Three’s a crowd.
10. Sorry, this isn’t my table.
9. At the tone, please leave your name, number, and the time you called.
8. Paper or plastic?
7. This is a test, had this been a real emergency…
6. No personal checks accepted.
5. Three out of four doctors recommend…
3. No shirt, no shoes, no service.
2. This program contains mature subject matter and may not be suitable for younger viewers, parental discussion advised.
1. Will work for food.
Words are amazing things. They can make us cry or laugh, make us happy or sad, make friends or enemies. George Carlin did a standup routine on the word stuff which is hilarious. One of Robin Williams’ best comic routines was the one about golf, a true four letter word. One of the worst movies ever made was called simply Gravity.
Single words can create action. Tell a well trained dog to sit, or stay, or shake and you will see it on its haunches, or frozen in place, or extending a front paw. Yell “Quiet” in a crowded room and watch everyone go still, or “Fire” and watch them panic.
The problem with some words is that we assign meanings to them that are not based on facts. Our reaction to some words are based on bias or misunderstanding. What we think they mean, which often is a meaning without thought behind it.
Homeless is a good example. Say that word to ten people and you will likely get five different interpretations. Sadly, the majority will say it means drug addicts or alcoholics or mentally ill. Here is a different thought, anyone who does not have at least six months income in the bank is potentially homeless. While there are those that are drug addicts, alcoholics, or mentally ill, the buzz word homeless does not define all.
When it comes to helping the homeless, however defined, and there is talk of a shelter in a neighborhood, the words that bring fear and trembling are “property values.” The NIMBYs pull that one out every time to provoke a reaction of support to stop any thought of a shelter near them. Having been involved in setting up a homeless shelter in a residential area, I know this is a bogus argument, but fear can cloud the truth.
The gun debate is another heated issue that gets confused by buzz words. Mention gun control and the cry of “protect the second amendment, we have the right to bear arms”, goes up. Funny that the words “well regulated milita” get lost in that debate. Any talk of gun control becomes, “they want to take our guns away”. No one wants to listen to the words, “no they don’t”.
For a land settled and built by immigrants, it is almost comical that immigrant has become a negative buzz word. Add Syrian to that description and suddenly the word means terrorist. These words have the ability to create hate and fear so quickly, rational thought or discussion is almost impossible. Unfortunately, words are being used to build a wall causing division when we should be addressing our common humanity. Muslim becomes synonymous with ISIS, which is about as ignorant as saying all Christians are like the group from Westboro Baptist Church.
The terms liberal and conservative have become so mired in misunderstanding they are tossed about without any thought. The labels are so easy to use, thus ending any further conversation. He is liberal, so you can ignore what is being said. She is conservative, so she must hate everybody. These two terms are misused, abused, and overused. I love the irony that Jesus was the liberal who wanted to feed the poor and condemned the conservative Pharisees.
Buzzwords have become labels. If we can put a label on something or someone then we can put it in a box, put it on a shelf, and then there is no need to dig deeper. Therein lies the problem. In a society so used to quick answers, we have forgotten how to look for the truth.
As long as we rely on buzzwords – prejudice, hatred, and ignorance will continue to divide us.
When I was in elementary school, one of my pet peeves was if someone in class acted up, the teacher would punish the whole class. Someone would throw a paper ball or a pencil and since no one wanted to confess, we all were made to miss recess or endure some other form of punishment. Because one person was “unruly”, we were all considered “unruly”. In high school this mentality morphed into a dress code that said a male could not wear a tailed shirt untucked. If you did you were considered a “hood”, because hoodlums dressed that way. My father had obtained a couple dozen white dress shirts for cheap and I wore one most days, untucked. Daily, I would have discussions with my teachers as to why they thought I needed to tuck in my shirt. My grades were good, I was not a hood, and to me the rule was pointless. I lost most of the time. It was either tuck in or go home. In the Army it was as bad. If one guy in the platoon did something wrong, we all suffered, usually by doing push-ups. This thought process of making the majority suffer for an act by the minority surfaces time after time.
Our world today is filled with examples. Someone jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge, solution – put up nets and ruin the view for all of us. One guy tries to light a shoe bomb, we all suffer the hassle of taking off our shoes when we go through airport security. Someone doesn’t want to pay for car insurance, our rates are higher. Someone shoplifts, we pay more for products.
Sadly, this mentality is also the basis for prejudice, hatred, and misconceptions. Oh, you’re a Muslim, then you must be a terrorist. You’re a Christian, then you must be an extreme fundamentalist. You’re a Democrat, then you must be a far left winger. You are a Republican, then you must be a far right winger.
We have become a nation of label makers. If we can slap a label on someone, then we think we know who and what they stand for. While this is an easy solution to dealing with each other, it is not only lazy but promotes ignorance, bigotry, and hate.
Yes there are Muslims who are terrorists, Christians who are extremely fundamental, far left Democrats and far right Republicans. For some reason we want to put one label on a group. I guess that just keeps it simple and comfortable for us, keeps us from having to think.
The homeless are a perfect example. The reasons for being homeless are as varied as the number of people on the streets. Yet, we would like to think they are all drunks, and addicts. If we believe that they are, then we can excuse ourselves from helping them, have a clear conscience when we just walk by them, ignoring their existence. Not that this is the right attitude, as we should be doing more to help any person who finds themselves homeless. But, when you sit down and actually talk to someone on the street, look into their eyes, listen to what they have to say, you find an actual human being.
Apply this process to anyone. If you are a Christian, sit down with a Muslim and have an intelligent discussion. A Democrat, sit down with a Republican. On the far left, sit down with someone on the far right. Somewhere along the line we lost the ability to hear each other out, and actually find out what someone else stands for, what they really think. Maybe we have never had the desire.
Facebook has widened the divide, enhanced our ability to just label and carry on as usual. I constantly see posts putting down liberals, conservatives, Democrats, Republicans, Christians, Muslims, gun owners, anti-gun owners. The ability to say something derogatory about a group is made all the easier by not having to be face to face.
All of this reminds me of the Buffalo Springfield song, For What It’s Worth, that says, “There’s battle lines being drawn, nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.” We all can’t be right, we can’t block out ideas that we may disagree with, we can’t ignore a person or group that might think just a little differently than we do, we can’t live in a constant state of fear of other people.
Behind every label we may use, there is another human being, not that different from ourselves. It is complete arrogance to think that we are better than someone else because of those labels. As long as we stay comfortable with our narrow views, the issues and problems that face all of us will just keep getting worse.
Imagine if we had a national reconciliation day, where each of us had to sit down over a meal with someone we labeled as different from ourselves. Would we all be better off? Would hatred diminish? Would the world be a better place?
What would happen if we all accepted one another, acknowledged and respected our differences, realized we are all in this together?
This old cliche’ could not be more relevant than today, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” (George Santayana).
The current crisis in Syria is a good example of not learning from our past. The refugees that need asylum have become the Japanese, interned in WWII, of 2015. There are those that would love to round up all the Muslims in the U.S. and either ship them out or corral them. There are those that would bar all Syrian refugees from our shore, similar to what we did to the Jews who were trying to escape Germany in WWII. It is too easy to label Muslims as terrorists, much the same as we label Hispanics as illegal, blacks as criminals, those on welfare as lazy and druggies. Labels are easy, put a label on, place them in a box and we can feel superior.
Sadly this makes us no different than the Nazis who wanted to purge Germany, no different than ISIS who want to kill all but the faithful to Allah, no different than the trials in Salem that condemned to death anyone different, labeling them as a witch.
This is not who we are. This country was founded by those who escaped tyranny, religious persecution, and prejudice. Interestingly, almost every group that has come to this country found persecution, prejudice, and religious intolerance. Most survived and overcame these obstacles, but have we all forgotten our roots?
The Statue of Liberty has a plaque that reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” How many of our forefathers came from some other country? Unless you are native American Indian, guess what? You classify as a refugee or an immigrant.
Why have we forgotten who we are? The answer lies in several places but let me list a few.
First, we are lazy. It is easy to slap a label on anyone or anything different from ourselves and set them or it aside. Our stereotypes help us to not look at a person as a human being, but as category. The homeless are an excellent example of this. After you sit across a table from a homeless person and have a conversation, it is hard to not see the humanity beaming back at you, and come away with a different perspective. For those so adamant about the Syrian refugee issue, I would ask how many Muslims have you talked to?
Second, we are lazy. Rather than gathering facts, information, or truth for ourselves, we have become puppets to those we think have the answers. We would rather listen to those who think as we do, than to discover or even entertain a new or different opinion. Another fitting quote is from Jim Morrison of the Doors, “Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” The best example of this is Fox News. Distort the truth, play on people’s fears, offer only one side to a discussion and you can control how people think. The number of people that rely on Fox for news shows how stupid some people in this country have become. On the other side are liberals who read only what agrees with their view, or worse get there news from Twitter. It is easier to continue with one’s prejudice than to challenge that prejudice with truth.
Third, we are lazy. Franklin Roosevelt said, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.” Thoreau had written in 1851, “Nothing is to be so much feared as fear.” We have become a nation afraid. We are afraid of people and things we do not understand. Yet, we do not want to take the time to understand , to do the research necessary to ease our fears. Instead we hide behind labels and cower. We are afraid of thinking for ourselves. We are afraid of having an open, intelligent discussion with those of opposing views. We are afraid of the truth. As Jack Nicholson said, “You can’t handle the truth.” What is the truth?
As our forefathers knew, not everyone in America is Christian, hence freedom of religion. Not everyone is going to agree with you, hence freedom of speech. Muslims have every right to be here as do Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Mormons, Atheists, or any other religious group. Everyone has a right to their own opinion, that opinion can be expressed on social media or any other soap box.
What our forefathers could not see, is a nation intolerant of any religion, any opinion, or a nation so lazy that we would be willing to forget our roots, and shut out refugees from any oppressed nation. It is easy to say I have mine, so stay out. One of our nation’s greatest symbols is the Statue of Liberty, whom some would want to see as a Statue of Intolerance.
There are those who would make Muslims register and carry special ID cards. Why not just tattoo a number on their wrists? Why not just round them all up and place them in camps as we did to U.S. citizens of Japanese descent in WWII? The mentality today of many, including some Christians, is the same as in a different time, different place, caused some to yell, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!”
“Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” America is at a crossroads, will we remain a symbol of freedom or become a symbol of suppression?
Halloween has passed, leaving three major events left for the year. November gives us Thanksgiving, then December will bring us Christmas and New Year’s Eve. These final three have one major theme in common: family, hope, possibilities, and tradition all rolled into the feeling that life is good and the future is bright. Okay, so maybe Thanksgiving is more about what has already happened, but the family and tradition parts hold.
Thanksgiving started as the celebration of a new land where the possibilities were endless. Newcomers were grateful for a place where each person had value, freedom to pursue their dreams, and follow the beliefs and traditions of their choosing. Well, in truth the first Thanksgiving was celebrated by Pilgrims who kept to themselves, took the land from the Indians, and did not want to be bothered by anyone else. Today, Thanksgiving is portrayed as either a time for families to gather together, or a day of rest before Black Friday. The gathering of family part is great unless your family is scattered and the possibility of getting together is remote or impossible. So we gather with the relatives available to us and try not to get depressed over those who we wish we could see, but can’t.
Christmas began as a sign of hope, promise, and love. Over time we managed to make it more about disappointment, one-upmanship, and depression. The days leading up to Christmas seem full of joy, the air filled with songs of family, tradition, and expectation. We are bombarded with scenes of families gathering around the fire, singing carols, trimming the tree, sharing gifts. While all the time, we start to reflect on family members no longer here, homes where gatherings never take place, carols that add to our sadness, trees looking bare, and gifts of no use. The world around us gives us an image of love and yet our reality is one of loss.
New Year’s Eve holds the promise of new beginnings, a fresh start, possibilities. We shake off the past turn our faces to the future and make lists of all we want to accomplish. It seems that it doesn’t take long for our promises to get set aside, our old habits return, and our lives are about the same as the year before.
While things may not be as dismal as I describe, the basic problem is one of expectation. Somewhere along the line we let the images of what all these events should be, blind us to the reality of what they are. Hence, people get depressed, suicide rates jump, disappointment rises. Thanksgiving is not as depicted in a Norman Rockwell painting, Christmas is not “A Wonderful Life” movie, New Year’s Eve is not the gala in Times Square. Many of us would love to go to sleep on Halloween night and not wake up until New Year’s Day.
The problem is that we have forgotten the basic meaning behind these holidays. The solution is found in the acronym KISS – keep it simple, stupid.
For Thanksgiving, this post I found on Facebook is perfect – when you wake upon Thanksgiving Day, realize you have clothes to wear, running water, food to eat, and that life is good, so just be thankful. The rest of the day can be with relatives or people you may not be happy to be around but hey, it is like going to the dentist, over before you know it.
Christmas is a little rougher to deal with. Don’t worry about getting the perfect gift, keep your gift giving to those closest to you, and remember Goodwill can use the gift you get that you have no clue what to do with.
New Year’s Eve is easy, just go to bed about 9 p.m. and you won’t miss a thing. As for resolutions, you just need one, no more resolutions.
As for the people you love who can’t join you on these festive occasions, just think Skype.
The only way to survive all of this is to accept what is and enjoy.