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Monday, May 11, 2009

Should We All Act the Same?

I believe very few of us, myself included, want a nation comprised of people who share all the same values, views, and beliefs. Think of the bland, static society in which we would live, a society immune to change and mechanically agreeing with mutual notions of the common good. True, politicians' approval ratings would reach astronomical highs. And, given that the customary insights were positive, we, as perfectly programmed robots, would live in complete harmony. Boring? Nonproductive? Or, happy as pigs in stagnant waters? I believe we all do want common respect for our opinions and much more tolerance from others. For example, I do not have to agree with your views on homosexuality, the Iraq War, or "good" music. However, I should hear, contemplate and respect your serious, well-supported opinions about these subjects. Without open lines of communication between so-called "incompatible" people, compromises and change will never occur. Here is an interesting current research study of adolescents in grades 7 to 12 conducted at Ohio State University by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and reported in the American Journal of Sociology: The study concluded that a racially diverse student body in American schools may not lead to more friendships between students of different races. The results showed that teens tend to choose same-race friends, even as the opportunity to choose friends from different races increases. Yet, school practices regarding academic tracking, extracurricular activities and student mixing by grade can help promote friendships among students of different races, the research found. On average, the odds of a teen naming someone of the same race as a friend were about twice the odds of naming a friend from a different race. "Therefore, the study suggests that schools interested in promoting substantive racial integration should encourage activities that help students of different race work together," said James Moody, author of the study. (Ohio State University Research News, May 29, 2002) Another finding of the study, equally as interesting to me, is the following: "When there are only two races in the school, there is a greater likelihood for 'us vs. them' social dynamics," Moody said. More cross-race friendships seem to occur when diverse populations of whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics attend a school. Students show less prejudice when they are able to think critically, reason at high levels, and have flexible, respected perspectives. Participation in cooperative learning activities can help students choose friends from outside racial groups and develop more positive racial attitudes while working together. My point is that merely throwing together a mixed race group, a mixed point-of-view group, or a mixed values group assures nothing. Common tolerance and respect will not occur unless all participants work together cooperatively and enrich each other through their own diverse, multiple ideas which leave room for a wide range of acceptance. The strength of the fabric of our country is the diversity of its citizens. To tolerate those threads we least like in this fabric makes the material whole and stronger. Again, this does not mean we should agree with every stance. An viewpoint of opposition does not an enemy make, nor does it undermine a prominent idea. Sages offer opinions as seeds that settle in the mind and grow until harvest. But, I am becoming increasingly critical of those who demand that Americans share all values, practice them everywhere in a so-called "correct" manner, and accept all changes in their belief systems just because some extremely misguided liberals think someone is wrong if we don't agree with every opinion expressed by biased, single-minded individuals. The truth, as I see it, is a mixture of diverse interpretations that deserves expression without reprisal. What I believe is definitely different from what I respectfully tolerate on a daily basis. To close, let me cite some examples of my displeasure with tolerance as many people see it. 1. I am an Independent. At election time, I wanted to support a Democrat for governor. As campaign workers knocked on my door, I dutifully told them that I wanted to work on the future-governor's campaign. After arriving at the campaign headquarters, the Democratic workers told me the future-governor had the election pretty much wrapped up, so would I please stuff together mass mailings supporting every democrat running in the election. Did they really think mindless conformity to an Independent voter was beneficial to their cause? 2. A couple of friends of mine casually mentioned they believed life ended at death and they were trying to convince me and another acquaintance of this by citing how there is a lack of empirical evidence for God, how God could allow evil, and how Christians believe in a wrong conception of Hell. My acquaintance and I posed arguments for disagreement; however, both atheists dismissed any dissenting views we held as "Christian babble" we had accepted from a bigoted environment that threatened terrible consequences for non-believers. In essence, we were called "stupid." 3. Once, while I was teaching, a striking beautiful and intelliegent girl who happened to be from a poor community and who from neccesity wore outdated clothing and an outdated hair style, sat listening in my class to daily announcements that included instructions for signing up for homecoming queen nomination. After class, I approached her and mentioned she would make a wonderful candidate. With no hesitation, she nodded her head in disagreement and said, "I wouldn't stand a chance in that popularity contest." Inside, I know she was correct about both parts of her statement- it was strictly a popularity contest and she was not representative of her mainly materialistic classmates. 4. I was standing in a nightclub during a going-away party for my son, who was leaving for deployment in Iraq. The place was extremely crowded so we were forced to stand fairly close together to converse and to enjoy our parting evening. A young lady, a stranger, making her way from the dance floor to the bar slid between our conversation, and, as she passed, I casually put my hand upon her shoulder to make sure she didn't trip. She immediately looked back at me and read me the riot act for "being an old man trying to make a move on her." 5. I once delivered newspapers on a home route after I taught school to earn some extra spending money. It was fairly easy to do and also provided me with a daily reason to take a much-needed walk. This particular edition of the paper on October 18, 1989, featured stories on the terrible earthquake that had killed many people in San Francisco a day earlier. As I rolled my papers and made my way on my route, I came to a home of a Christian neighbor who met me in his driveway. I said, "Isn't it terrible about the people and devastation caused by the San Francisco earthquake?" My neighbor replied, "Well, that is just God's revenge on those people out there who live an unnatural life style." "So oft in theologic wars, The disputants, I ween, Rail on in utter ignorance Of what each other mean, And prate about an Elephant Not one of them has seen!" --John Godfrey Saxe, 1887: referring to the Buddhist fable of the Blind Sages and the Elephant

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