acceptance | considering proximity and choice
The American Melting Pot: the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I remember thinking when I was ten, “Wow! I live in a country where as a woman I can vote, speak my mind, and dress how I want!” Once I grew up, however, I realized: Yes, I have rights, but so does the person who stands against me, tears down my beliefs and opinions, and reacts to my physical presence in an inappropriate manner, shouting, “It’s my right!” It’s a complicated world full of differing beliefs, combating perspectives, and very polar opposite upbringings. So, who is right? We talk a lot about that. We shout out the name proudly of what contender best suits our viewpoint best. In actuality, the presidential candidates aren’t going to 100% reflect our deepest and realest ideas of a better country. If they do, well good for you, but holy shit some things people say are so right or left wing. I think, though, there is a rising generation of young voters who are stuck in the middle, and I’d like to believe that I am apart of that generation where things aren’t black and white, they are gray: because, America, we ARE a mix of cultures, colors, beliefs and values, and at some point, we have to compromise and meet somewhere in the middle. (Oh, and I think it’s pretty darn cool we can all get to know each other. Maybe try it sometime?)
When I was a little girl, I thought about ethnicity and nationality in these terms: Where did your parents’ parents come from? Where did you move here from? How long has your family been in Massachusetts? Do you like it here? What religion does your family follow? Can I come with you to see what that festival is all about? Oh, that’s different, teach me more. I genuinely liked learning about people’s cultures and the super weird, super awesome things they did that I was innocently and joyously baffled by.
I remember talking to a Jewish boy at school. I was middle school age and I had grown up with this kid. He was always in my school district, and although we weren’t close friends, I thought he was a stand-up guy. He was smart and made really cool observations in class. I thought, this kid is going places. ANYWAY…We were talking about winter break and how excited we all were to have vacation. I told him how I had gotten my family some really thoughtful presents that year and how I hoped I would get that brand new iPod, or whatever the hell it was I was asking for that Christmas, and he stopped and said, “I didn’t get my family any Christmas presents.” And I was like, Yo! Hold up! This kid’s a jerk. “No Christmas presents?” I said, put off. “That’s so mean!”
He laughed and said, “I’m not mean. I’m Jewish!”
I felt like such a fucking asshole.
No crap he didn’t buy his family presents, he isn’t Christian. I immediately apologized and told him that I didn’t even think about it. I hadn’t talked to him about his religious beliefs before and I had wrongly assumed he was Christian. And I should mention, I wasn’t even brought up devout, I literally just celebrated Christmas because it became more of a consumerist tradition in my house than something pious.
But, back to the point, I learned something. I became very sensitive to the beliefs and cultures of other people, not because I wanted to be politically correct, but because I wanted to be a better, more sensitive human being. So, as I met Muslims, Wiccans, people from different sects of Christianity, etc., I learned to listen and research and embrace people’s belief systems. And although race is a completely different issue, I applied the same philosophy there too. I could never understand someone’s journey to equality, their struggle to be not only accepted, but respected among other members of society, and their family’s history that brought them to America, but I could relate to them from pieces of their stories, the emotion that drove them to be angry with the world, thankful for their opportunities, and passionate in their desire to create a better future for generations to come.
The emerging group of young people have had a lot of smack talked about them. Seriously, the older generation thinks we’re idiots, yet they hope we step up and do the right thing when the time comes. Well guys, hate to break it to you, but we’re inheriting a wild mess over here, as previous generations have also felt. And to be honest, you can’t have a new country (and yes, we are very new) without lots of bugs to work out along the way. Unfortunately, a bug in the house of power manifests in bloodshed and violence, protest and oppression, revolution and amendment. Our country started in small homes with dim candlelight over a dinner table, and a functional, loving future will also start in our homes. It starts in our love for our little ones and the basic respect for humankind we teach them. Because, believe it our not, the poison we all fear: hatred, can be combated with love, tolerance and respect. Respect your differences, learn about the other person, look them in the eye and tell them, “I may not agree with you, or understand you yet, but I do not want to harm you, insult you, or extinguish what makes you, you.”
So, that’s my spiel. It’s not a plan for world peace or a resolution to the deeply engrained stereotypes we have so subconsciously integrated into the way we behave, but it’s a start. It’s a vow that I will teach my children and the people around me that “tolerance” isn’t what we are fighting for. We are fighting for people to feel a natural love for their neighbor, their opponent, even their enemy, because once you understand empathy and subjectivity, you can open your mind to the way one action, one statement, and one seemingly meaningless exchange on the playground can change the way you treat others forever.