Having lived more than half a century, it never ceases to amaze me how varied we are as a people in our great country. America is truly a melting pot and our diversity is at the heart of our greatness. Quoting the line of Bill Murray’s character in the movie “Stripes,” our forefathers have been kicked out of every country.
I mention this now as we have a wave of intolerance that permeates our public debate that is unhealthy. The marketers learned back in the late 1980’s and leveraged further with the advent of social media to segment the audiences. Unfortunately, we have taken this segmentation to a fervent level in political debate. People get their so-called news from a biased source which perpetuates generalizations and stereotypes. People walk around with their own set of facts. Stephen Colbert termed this “truthiness” and he was on point in his observations. So,in one of the GOP candidates minds, he believes as does his audience that most people on food stamps are African-Americans. That is not true.
In the book “That Used to be Us” that I have cited numerous times and encourage all to read, there is a highly pertinent and very illuminating anecdote about our armed service, in particular people staffing a naval vessel. The allied and opposing forces were amazed by the diversity of our navy and military. The book references a ship of women, which was a misnomer, as the leadership of the ship included several women. The allied and captured opposing military initially only wanted to deal with men, but when they witnessed that the leadership were women and competent officers, they were impressed. What also impressed them was Caucasian, African, Hispanic and Asian Americans working side by side. The opposition had presumed all Americans were white. These diverse teams of people working well together were clear messages that people with perceived differences can not only coexist but function as a unit.
This was not always so in our country, but it is amazing what can happen over time. We still struggle with civil rights issues, but we are in a much better place than we were back in the 1960’s. The oppression of lesbians and gays is slowly dissolving, but it is the 2000’s version of the Civil Rights movement. I think most Americans are tired of the evangelical right legislating their version of morality on the rest of the country. I go back to “what would Jesus do?” He hung out with the disenfranchised more than the church leadership of the day. He would speak of the Golden Rule, which is as good today as it was then. So, as a self-professed “old fart,” I would say we should call out intolerance when we see it and defend those who are being put down. LGBT or GLBTers deserve every right and opportunity that other citizens have in this country.
Yet, it goes beyond that. The Middle East will never be as successful as a region until women have the same rights as men. Using an example from Malcolm Gladwell’s book called “Outliers,” if you limit your talent pool to only half of the potential candidates, you are competing with your arm tied behind your back. His specific point was Canadian hockey identified at early ages what they believed were precocious kids. What turned out to be the truth, the precocious kids were merely older than their competition based on age cut offs, so were more skilled because of their maturity not talent.
If a society puts down its women, they are dismissing the opportunities for success as a people by 1/2. It is not lost on me that over 50% and closer to 60% of college students in the United States are women. And, I was not surprised when the two top winners of the Intel Science prize for high school science students were girls. One of these young ladies may have come up with a cure of cancer. Her thesis is being tested as we speak. The second place winner is not only female, she is also homeless. So, she had more working against than anyone could imagine. She is very much involved in marine biology.
So, taking just the first example and displacing her to her Iran or Afghanistan, this young lady who may have discovered a cure or, at least, a significant treatment of cancer, would likely have been suppressed or even killed for going to school. It does not get any clearer than that. This is why the separation of church and state is critical. Misguided religious zeal is not a good thing as it holds back the opportunities for all.
Yet, we have some of the same intolerance in America. We have a misguided focus on things that may be very important to the religious body of people, but infringe upon the rights of others. Most people who are overtly religious understand this, yet we have a zeal that causes people to say and support positions that run counter to why we are a great country. I do not know the original author of this quote – I believe it may have been Upton Sinclair back in the 1950’s – but when I first heard it was back in the early 1990’s. It was used to reference the Republican Party’s catering more to the evangelical right. A Republican leader at the time felt this was a slippery slope and said “When terrorism comes to America, it will be carrying a cross draped in the American flag.” This was before ostracizing and assaulting gay people, the Koran burning minister in Florida, the military funeral picketers from the small mid-western church, the foiled plot by a Christian terrorist group to kill Detroit police and other examples.
We cannot and must not support intolerance. When we hear it and see it, we must call it out for what it is. Being tolerant and inclusive of others is not only the right thing to do per the Golden Rule, our constitution and our ideals, it means we as a country can be more successful. We are embracing the rights for all of our citizens to contribute to our society and make us greater than we can be as individuals.