Friday, May 11, 2012

Red and Yellow, Black and White




In the span of thirty minutes this morning, I heard three interest groups bashing the beliefs of the opposing groups. Thirty minutes. An acquaintance expressed her desire to go vegetarian. She wants to improve her health. She wants to feel better about her food choices and the impact they have on her body and the environment. Her omnivorous friends commenced to tell her what a horrible idea that would be. But meat is so tasty, so delicious. We’re SUPPOSED to eat meat. Vegetarians are just freaking not right. In another discussion, a friend expressed his concerns about gay marriage and the president’s recent decision to support the issue. This friend feels same-sex marriage wrong, sinful, and just a bane on the fabric of society. He feels that gay marriage would corrupt the very institution of marriage itself, would reflect horribly on the country and the people in it. I, then, came across a news article covering outrage in response to a recent magazine cover photo of a young mother breastfeeding her three-year-old son. Proponents of attachment parenting feel it important to nurse a child until that child is ready to wean. They believe developmental needs vary from child to child and do not adhere to random dates on a calendar. The article was supposedly informative, but confrontational at the same time. The magazine was very clever in its attempt to sensationalize the issue, to provoke the exact response it did. As a mother who once nursed a four-year-old and three others past their second year, I found nothing shocking about the photo other than the fact that it was designed to pit mother against mother, to cause a divide in a group that could use all the unity it could muster. Each of these discussions was particularly disturbing to me as they touch on issues dear to my heart. Let’s be clear here. I am a firm proponent of veganism, gay marriage, and attachment parenting. No surprise there. And each of these issues could be an entire essay in itself. I would love nothing more than to offer up an opinion and some related research on any of these topics, but for the purposes of this work, I’d like to focus, instead, on the underlying theme between the three. I’m right. You’re wrong. I’m good. You’re bad. Let’s create a culture in which we all look the same, act the same, and believe the same. Excuse me, but I think that’s been done, with some very ugly results.

When my son was a little guy, he would color with just one crayon. I would set aside some time to sit down with him, turn on Raffi’s De Colores, grab a juice box, some cookies, and pull out the big box of Crayola sixty-fours. Inevitably he would grab for the green or the red or the blue, depending on the day and his mood at the time, and then he would push the rest aside. No matter the amount of goading, the suggestion to explore, to break out the brown or the magenta, he would finish the entire picture in different shades of just this one color. When asked why, he never said he didn’t like the other colors or that they were ugly or wrong or defective in any way. He said he just preferred the color he was using.

I learned a secret in sales training once. Never resort to bashing your competitor. Instead, promote the heck out of yourself. If you have a desirable product that you firmly believe in, then there really is no need to trash your opponent. It’s ugly. It’s unbecoming. It’s unnecessary. I realize my director was talking about lipstick and blush, but I took liberty to apply the philosophy to life.

I have a friend who stands for everything I do not. I have another who is me as much as anyone can be another. I have unfriended the first eighty times in my head, once for real. I work hard not to tear him down in front of others. I work hard to look for myself in his eyes. Where are the similarities? Where are the common interests? How can I appreciate the differences? What do I have to learn from this person? What does he have to teach? I try my best to be open and to not criticize. I try my best to find the good. I don’t always succeed. I am, after all, a product of the culture in which I have been raised. But, when I do succeed, I see a person who is basically kind and funny and true to his nature. I see a person who does not cow to the expectations of others. I can learn a lesson from that. That is a desirable way to live a life.

When I look at the other friend, the one who is me only different, I see something that bothers me to no end. For all of the kindness, the compassion, the interest in the good of humanity, his words can be biting and judgmental and harsh. I think on that and realize that in my efforts to promote love and peace and tolerance, I, too, can bite and judge and harm with my words. I justify this by telling myself that I want only the best for the world in which I live, that I want to promote goodness and end suffering, but how indeed to promote the end of suffering without contributing. I’m right. You’re wrong. I’m good. You’re bad. Let’s create a culture in which we all look the same, act the same, and believe the same. I am as guilty as those I am looking to change.

Tell me. If you and I were the last two people on earth, would you love me? Would you find a way? Would I love you? And why should we try?

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