We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Brilliant words, brilliant sentiment, a cornerstone of our nation’s foundation – and yet we somehow seem to continually forget that these words really do apply to everyone. Not just to me and my kind, not just to you and your kind, not just to any one particular group – but to everyone.
There were several news stories last week that struck a nerve with me – in a couple of cases deeply saddened me – all of which made me wonder whether there was ever going to be any hope for humanity. The highlights (or lowlights) are listed here (in no particular order):
1) The Texas school board member who posted a KKK FB meme with the slogan “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas”. There are no words to describe how I feel about this even if it was an exceptionally poor attempt at humor, but suffice it to say that I sincerely hope he does not remain involved in education for very long. And I fear for the direction of that school district if he does.
2) The 12-year-old male cheerleader in California that committed suicide, most likely as the result of bullying. I’m acutely aware that depression & suicide in adults are chemical and don’t really relate to a specific trigger, but children, whose brain chemistry, and logical thinking circuitry, are not fully developed, generally do act in response to emotional triggers. As a parent, I do, in fact, blame the parents for the bullying behaviors of their offspring. And I blame the schools for rarely taking bullying complaints seriously enough. Not everyone has the same level of resilience. This is not because we’ve pampered our kids – it is a part of our emotional make-up. All children, everywhere, need protecting. Toughing it out doesn’t work for a child with less resilience and/or a weaker support structure.
3) The Grand Jury decision in the death of Eric Garner. Inexcusable. There are no words for this either. Unlike some other cases, there was no ambiguity. The death had been ruled a homicide by the NYC Coroner. The videotape is as plain as can be. I understand that police officers are rarely indicted, but to not indict the officer & then to indict the videotaper? I’m lost here. This one needs Federal intervention.
4) The passage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act by the Michigan House. If the state Senate passes the bill, then I hope that the Governor has the same level of common sense exhibited by Jan Brewer when she vetoed a similar bill in Arizona (if only because of tourism ramifications). I grew up listening to similar arguments made to support private businesses’ rights to discriminate based on race. It’s wrong, plain & simple. Allowing discrimination for one reason opens the door to discrimination for any reason. Yes, this really is a slippery slope. I don’t want to see this country take a giant step backwards just because the members of the certain Old Testament fundamentalist Churches think that they are being persecuted when they are asked to respect the rights of those that don’t fit their ideal. We can have this debate as long as they want to, but the facts are that this nation was not founded as a Christian nation. The Founding Fathers were Deists, not Christians – and were actually not particularly religious. The Constitution was not based on the 10 Commandments. In fact NONE of the 10 Commandments are in the US Constitution – and only a very select handful are referenced in criminal statutes. And special note for the rather unusual folks that set Texas’s curriculum back to the Dark Ages – Democracy does not exist in the Bible (Old or New Testament), and Moses very definitely did not promote anything close to Democracy. Which version of the Bible have you been reading?
The last one led to a dinner discussion with my daughters last night, as I tried to explain what the hell is wrong with people. The answer, sadly, is simple. Our brains are hard-wired to fear anything and anyone that is different from us, or that comes from outside of our group. It is a survival instinct of the most basic type. It drives what is generally referred to as our unconscious biases. Ok, so human nature is not always pretty, but, people, in order to survive learn to adapt. Most people are taught that it is wrong to hate from the time they are very young, and learn to adapt to a world that is full of differences so that we can thrive in school, and on the job, and in the broader reaches of our society. The biases may be there, and they may color our actions, but for the most part we are not dominated by them, and we do manage to get along well enough with others that we, and they, can thrive.
There have always been those that do not accept differences, or changes without a fight, if ever. Although they can do damage, and have throughout history, not just in the US, they generally remain in the minority, and more rational heads tend to prevail. But in the last few decades, there are those that never accepted the Civil Rights movements, resented Women’s Rights, and are in a position where they have the finances to campaign on people’s fears – not on facts, not on anything rational, but purely on the fear that their very way of life is threatened by those that are different – too secular, too liberal, too unlike ‘us’. So we start electing people based on nothing more than their ‘traditional values’, or their support of the 2nd Amendment (who needs the others, anyway) – in particular we vote for people with no government experience because we don’t trust the government. But unlike Mr Deeds, inexperienced politicians tend to be poor politicians. The simple fact is that governing requires compromise. And it requires accepting that we, as a nation, are not clones. We are all different, and we should be embracing those differences, and working to assimilate them to make a better, stronger, nation. Not rejecting those differences and expecting total conformity to something that a majority of the populace does not agree with.
Acceptance, and tolerance, of differences, is not about ‘Political Correctness’, it is about understanding that passage from the Declaration of Independence, and recognizing that it applies to everyone.
And for those of you that still feel that you have some sort of right to hate that I, in my secularism, fail to recognize, I leave you with the following quote:
“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.”
— Edwin Markham