Last Monday in my Ethics etc. class a presenter came and began by reading an award-winning essay she had written based on the writings of Caillois (a French philosopher). She told of how she worked to keep her lawn green so that it would compare favorably with the neighbors’ lawns. [Our teacher later pointed out how insane it is that we all work so hard to have green lawns in a desert] The speaker progressed to how we try to fit in with what is a perceived societal standard (even when it is insane). She is a Native American and she referenced the idea of staying out of the sun so her skin would be fairer, etc. Recently, when she was leaving a store, as she stepped off the curb, a lady driving by narrowly missed her, rolled down her window and shouted something rude to her about another ethnicity. Our presenter said that not only do we often make false judgments based on a person’s appearance–particularly when they are not like us, but sometimes we ostracize them because of their beliefs, values, or choices. During the discussion following her presentation, a young man who sat near me added to the conversation that he was gay, and grew up in a strong Christian family and all his life he has struggled with being considered different or unacceptable. I was having an epiphany.
I wrote down: “I have lived a privileged life.” For the most part, I have not experienced discrimination or marginalizing until this class (when my belief in God was dismissed). For the first time in my life I have had a glimpse of what others live with all the time and it had angered me. Suddenly, I no longer hated coming to class, but realized it had been a blessing in letting me feel (in a very small measure) what others felt. I mentioned the time I had spent in the Philippines. There the people are one ethnicity, mostly one religion–Catholic, and other than a few, one economic status. But in America we have great diversity. Our class was diverse. We can celebrate that. But when we put people in boxes (the theme of the lady’s essay), not only do we deny the depth of who they are, but we deny ourselves an opportunity for expanding our own experiences and friendships.
Often we define others and ourselves with labels. I don’t think that is necessarily wrong. I am a mother, a writer, a tutor, a wife, a woman, a student, a Christian, mostly a vegan, and so forth. But when we put one label on a person, such as “Irish,” and then despise them because of that one box we’ve squeezed them into—that is when we reduce ourselves to much less than we could be.
After class the young man, who had shared before me, hurried to catch up to me. He expressed an appreciation for my comments and we talked while he walked me to my car far into the parking lot. Today, another student, of a completely different political and religious (ok, he doesn’t believe in God) view than mine, made a point of letting me know he appreciated what I had to offer. His taking time to say so made me feel good. We can have opposing ideas, but when we are friends, that can add to our experience.