Monday, February 23, 2015

Welcoming the Other

Noticed the Academy Awards lately? The many award winners with accents, the films showing the humanity of the marginalized and dismissed, the acceptance speeches that go beyond “Hooray for me!” and reach out toward inclusion and social justice? From the slaves to the winners of 12 Years a Slave (I know, last year’s winner, but still), from the films about people shoved in the closet of shame to public pride and disclosure, from the people who picked needed grapes and cleaned houses yet shunned as illegal immigrants creating profound statements of and about art, the times they are a’changin’ and I for one say Amen! and Hooray!

The evolution of humanity’s humanity is hard to see sometimes in the face of Fox News, ISIS, the Tea Party, The Oklahoma proposed bill to not teach history that criticizes America, but did you read about same sex marriage in Alabama? Alabama! And the stirring speech by the Glory songwriters about the bridge in Selma that once served to crush people and their spirit being a metaphor for a new world. As Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” And inclusion, I would add. Turing saves a few million lives with his work, but is deemed illegal and immoral by the ignorance and fear of his times. And now same sex marriage in Alabama. Alabama!

At the same time that all the traffic pattern is clearly going in the direction of shared humanity, there are the powerful forces of fear, hatred, narrow-mindedness, ignorance standing with their clubs and attack dogs on the other side of the bridge trying to turn it back. And because inclusion demands effort and courage and awakening the frontal lobes and opening the heart and expanding knowledge, it is more difficult than the default system of the lower brain that knows only fight or flight. George Wallace began his political career talking about good schools and good roads with three people at the town meeting listening. But the moment he started spewing racial hatred and white supremacy, he had a roaring crowd. (He repented about this near the end of his life.)

Consider: The entire universe, except for one small infinitesimal speck, is an “other” and so our life task is to engage in conversation with all the others and see how many we can hold on the same side of the line as us. Biology demands a certain initial distrust of the other— the lamb shall certainly not naively try to lie down with the lion— but once we sort that out, the rest is simply ignorant and fearful folks trying to create an identity through exclusion and vilification of the other, be it skin color, accent, gender, salary, age, the name of your god or gods and the people you choose to love. Once we get to know personally anyone on the “other” list— a nephew, a neighbor, a co-worker— it becomes more difficult to accept the slander. And thus, while affinity groups have their purpose and power, they fall short of what’s needed— ongoing conversation with the other until we find out shared humanity.

A word to all the folks with their shotguns raised and all the parts within ourselves that shut doors— join the march! The music is better, the people fascinating, its more fun to laugh and joke together than spew venom and the loving open heart beats the enclosed fortress of ignorance any day of the week. Why continue to create suffering and throw up all those Stop signs when the green light of inclusion so clearly urges us forward?

And if that’s not enough to convince you, consider this. Start getting to know and working with all the folks you once considered wholly other and you might just win an Oscar!

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