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Tue May 27, 2014, 07:18 PM

-ism [View all]

“Intolerance betrays a want of faith in one’s cause.” -- Gandhi

Discussions about “-ism” have frequently been acrimonious on this forum. Issues that involve racism and sexism tend to be the most divisive and emotional here. In a very real sense, this is expected: American society has never come to grips with the cultural pathologies that infect most communities across the nation.

No infant is born hateful. It is learned behavior. If you watch itty-bitty children interacting with others, you find that they are aware of differences among people, including a person being male or female, and with different shades of skin color. I remember my older daughter, at age three, rubbing my brother-in-law’s arm, and saying, “Oh, Uncle Keith, you’re black. That’s so pretty!”

At our extended family events/ reunions, she saw people who were black, brown, red, yellow, and white. As a young adult, although she is aware that some people have hang-ups about what is incorrectly referred to as “race,” she knows that the racists own the problem. Obviously, the systematic racism also causes problems for too many people who do not own the problem. For racism in the United States is real, and contaminates the fabric of our society with ignorance, fear, and hatred. An obvious example of this is found in the hatred for President Obama; this is not to say that everyone who disagrees with his actions is racist, of course, but racists -- especially white racists -- continue to refuse to accept that he was twice elected to the highest office in the land.

The other major “-ism” -- sexism -- has more entrenched roots in our society. It is a sibling to racism, so entangled that it can be difficult to separate the two completely. And while like with racism, there have been advances in our cultural attitudes, we are still a long way from the Promised Land. While my daughter’s generation is intellectually and ethically advanced compared to my own, when it comes to issues involving marriage equality and the like, some of the ignorance, fear, and hatred between the sexes remains.

Hence, it seems worthwhile to consider how positive changes are accomplished …..more so, for goodness sakes, than the arguing, accusing, and finger-pointing that too often takes place on this forum. For we must do more than simply define the problem. We have to identify how change is made, and then use this information to decide upon the most meaningful approach that we can take -- as individuals and groups.

Martin Luther King, Jr., noted that it is a myth that it takes “time” to make meaningful change. “Time is neutral,” King said in the last Sunday sermon he was to deliver. “It can be used either constructively or destructively. ….Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through tireless efforts and the persistent work of individuals …. Without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation …”

Thus, when I have the opportunity to talk with my daughter and her friends, I am aware that the changes I see reflected in their view of the world, is largely the result of the environment that they were raised in. Obviously, this starts with the family unit in which they were raised. Yet it also includes the schools they attend, and the communities they inhabit. More, it includes all of the negative aspects of the child’s upbringing, as well.

The second avenue to change is the individual. People can and do change -- often, for the better. In fact, those people who do not change over the years they spend on earth, tend to stand out more than those who do evolve in their thinking. We all know people who channel the social stagnation King spoke of.

It seems to me that one of the greatest stumbling blocks that prevents meaningful discussions on this forum is a failure to recognize -- and respect -- that people change. It would seem unlikely that a person who was raised in a household where females are not valued, is going to be at the same location on the path, as one who was raised respecting both male and females.

We need to be patient with individuals, and equally impatient with “the system.” You can’t curb anger with more anger, or hostility with more hostility, when dealing with individuals. You can’t force a person to see things differently by insulting them. Rather, people are more likely to be open to viewing things differently, when you approach them civilly, and use logic, facts, and rational thinking. Likewise, by creating tension in a larger social setting, one can open minds to different ways of thinking.

The potential good that can come from helping a person to think differently -- to understand and appreciate that there are other, better ways to relate to both male and female human beings, and to put the old, toxic “-isms” in the past -- should not be underestimated. For a person must think differently, before they will act differently. And our culture needs to be transformed, in thoughts and actions, in order that we can confront the other serious issues that confront humanity today.

H2O Man

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