On the Fence

I staged my first organized protest against “injustice” when I was 16.  It had significant ramifications  that I have carried with me and used as guide when I feel righteous anger against anything, anywhere.

I was a leader in our church youth group and a member of our congregation invited us to their neighborhood pool for a swim party.  This was in the Rio Grande Valley in the late 1970’s.  There was another pool in our town…a city pool.  It was in a part of town that my father refused to let me go into to.  “That” part of town.  My father is a story unto himself.  We won’t get into that right now.  Getting invited to go to that pool was a big deal.

Then I found out that this pool was for only certain people.  People who were white. Remember this was the 1970’s  And the Rio Grande Valley.  Be outraged if you like, but please finish reading this.  Understand that I was outraged too.

Our pastor and his wife at the time had adopted a little girl from Bolivia.  In my mind, because she was not “white” she would be excluded from this swim party.  Unacceptable!

I started talking…loudly.  I demanded justice.  I canceled the pool party.    I interrupted a church service to stand up for her rights and the rights of everyone else who were being denied the right to swim in that pool.  I felt pretty good about myself.  I was working for social justice.  That’s what my church taught.

Only it turned out that nobody had any intention of keeping that little girl out of that pool. And if I had initiated a conversation about my concerns, it could all have been worked out peacefully…and I would not have made a complete jackass of myself.

That pool was not actually a neighborhood pool.  It had been built by a few residents in the neighborhood with their own money and they shared it with others who owned house in the neighborhood.  Because they were neighbors.  So it was a private pool.  It was “their” pool and they could do with it as they wished.

Was it “right”?  That’s a really big question.  Was it legal?  Yes.

Was I wrong to be on the lookout for injustice and all things unfair?  Nope.

Did I handle it incorrectly with extremism and a total lack of concern for everyone around me?  Absolutely.

I was forgiven by most.  There was a lot of head-shaking by quite a few.  After all, I was young and “didn’t really understand how the world worked”.  At the church’s senior luncheon, I was voted as the most likely to end up in jail as a result of a demonstration or protest of some kind.

I don’t regret this incident.  It’s contributed greatly to who I am.  I believe in fairness and equality.  I also believe in peaceful protest.  I believe in honoring the law.  I believe in making a decision about a person by the character he exhibits and I understand that we are all flawed and make mistakes…sometimes big mistakes…in our efforts to make things better.

I condemn violence and hate speech and the harassment of anyone who disagrees with you.  I can also understand some of it.  That doesn’t mean I endorse it.

I tend to sit on the fence and watch.  There’s a good view from there.  I’m not so far on one side of the pasture or the other that I can’t see far enough.  Sitting on the fence doesn’t mean I don’t ever get off of it.  I’ve gone left and I’ve gone right. I just try to sit on the fence and get a good lay of the land before I go running off in any direction.

When I was 16, I learned that I didn’t know everything.  I learned that listening and asking questions and initiating rational discussion is important.  I learned it the hard way.

I am 55 now.  I still don’t know everything.  I still believe in trying to make things right.

I do know that I’m as sick of the fear-mongering by some who are fighting for social justice as I am of the hateful speech and violence being promoted by some on the other side.

The view from the fence right now is unpleasant no matter which way I turn.  And the fence is getting pretty damn crowded as an increasing number of folks are speaking up and saying the extremists are not speaking for them. Being the loudest is not always the best.

I learned that when I was 16.

Thoughts on a Sleepless Night

I struggled with going to sleep last night.  Finally just got up and started jotting down the random stuff floating around in my brain.  Tired and underenthused about dealing with life today…

“Welcome to the innerworkings of my mind”…for what it’s worth here’s a sampling of my thoughts:

  • Just because you don’t agree with someone doesn’t mean they are wrong (or right) – it just means you don’t agree with them.
  • “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
  • How much money is it going to cost to try and remove Robert E. Lee’s name and image from schools’ and everywhere else?  Maybe we could find a better use for that money?
  • Not all racists are violent.  Not all Muslims are terrorists.  Not all “whites” are entitled.  Not all of Mexican heritage are illegal.  I could go on and on.  Maybe we should just start treating people like people.
  • Maybe some people just need to get over themselves.  Your childhood sucked.  I’m sorry.  That was then.  This is now.  When are you going to make it your life and start living it?  Sitting in the past and feeling sorry for yourself is stupid.  This applies to everyone including myself.  Get a life, literally.
  • Sometimes people can do great things in their life and bad things.  The bad doesn’t always cancel out the good.  That’s a good thing ’cause I can’t think of a single perfect person I know.  We can try to tear down our heroes by pointing out their flaws all day long.  All that does is leave us with nothing.  Maybe we could just acknowledge that a human can do something great and heroic and then screw up.
  • Speaking of heroes…let’s bad mouth Abraham Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Martin Luther King Jr., the police officer next door, and anyone else you can think of who actually tried or is trying to make the world a better place (whether you agree with them or not) and let’s exalt “celebrities” who are actually doing jack-shit except having a big butt or getting drunk or doing nothing whatsoever that is productive.
  • I like my chickens.  I could watch them for hours.  They have a very interesting social order.  They get along beautifully.  They may not be very smart, but they learn from their mistakes.  If you acquire two groups of chickens at different times (they weren’t grouped together as very young chicks), they will never really socialize together well.  They may hang out together and fight over the same grasshopper, but in the end, they prefer their own grouping.
  • Having the right of free speech doesn’t mean you need to exercise it all the time.  It’s also good to know when to keep your mouth shut.  There’s a difference between standing up for you believe in and just “stirring the pot” to get a response from people. While some folks are making a lot of noise, others are quietly actually doing something about the problem.
  • No matter how bad you think your life is here in These United States of America, you are still probably better off than a lot of others living somewhere else.
  • There is always going to be someone who is “better off than you”.  There is no such thing as having it all.  Anyone who is ridiculously wealthy or powerful  sacrificed something in order to get where they are.  They may be looking at your life and wanting something you have.
  • Why do some things ignite a passionate outcry among people – and other things just fade away in the news.  Thousands of garment workers die in Bangledesh factories and yet we keep buying cheap T-shirts.  Good men and women working as police officers die doing their job and we only make a big deal of their “victims”.  Soldiers die serving their country and we never hear their names.  Thousands of people die around the world because they are trying to worship as they believe, but nine seem to outnumber them.
  • We spend more time and resources arguing over terminology and semantics than we do really trying to solve the problem at hand.  Hate crime?  Terrorism?  Isn’t the taking of a life hateful and terrifying enough?  Do we have to define it further?  Murder is wrong.  No matter who does it.  Or why.  Wrong.

There you have it.  When it’s all in writing, I can see why I was having trouble going to sleep.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that lots of good stuff happened in the world today.

Unfriended

“Unfriended” – is that even a word?  I suppose it is because it happened to me…on facebook.  Today.

Honestly, I’m the type of person who just wants everyone to like me.  Insecurity?  I don’t know what it is, but I get really upset when I realize that someone doesn’t like me.  I immediately start to question my behavior, my attitude, myself – and conclude that I must have been in the wrong.

This time, that didn’t happen.  Maybe I’ve been making progress in silencing my negative critic. Maybe I’ve changed a bit in the last year and am more confident in who I am.  In looking over what happened to cause this “unfriending”,  I don’t regret what I said.  In fact, I don’t even think that I should have remained silent.

In short, she posted an inflammatory comment and I responded.  She was offended. She suggested that I unfriend her.  I replied that I don’t unfriend friends because we don’t agree 100% on something.  She unfriended me.

I don’t want to turn this blog into a rant on controversial topics.  I try my best to be a kind, considerate individual who respects everyone.  I may not agree with you.  There may be subjects we agree to disagree on.  There may even be topics that we mutually agree to never broach.

Am I perfect? Hell No!  Do I have my share of prejudices?  Yes.  We all do.   I love this quote from Holy Cross Primary School in North Belfast Ireland for that very reason:

If we had been born where they were born and taught what they were taught we would believe what they believe.

I try to be open-minded and think (and re-think) through issues.  There are times I find it necessary to redefine what I believe and there are some things that I stand by steadfastly.

I believe we live in a scary world where bad shit happens.  Sad, tragic events that leave me afraid, depressed and weary.

And I firmly believe that the journalists (and their corporations) can be biased and exploitive.  Bad news sells better than good news.  They are in a rush to break a story and by the time all the facts emerge, it’s old news and we never hear of it.

I also know that we live in a world where good is happening…all the time.  Change is occurring.  Slowly.  But, we’ll rarely see it featured in the media.

People are complex, glorious creations.  We will never agree on everything…and we shouldn’t.  I wouldn’t care to live in a world where individuality was sacrificed on the altar of conformity.

I believe in human rights.  There are some things that all should have…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness come to mind.  But…you can’t provide someone their human rights by taking away the rights of someone else.  That would be like building up someone by criticizing someone else.  Equality is equality.  It must be balanced and fair for all involved.

I believe in the American dream.  But that was founded on the precept that you work for what you get.  No one handed those first pioneers anything.  They struggled and worked for it.  Some succeeded.  Some didn’t.  Life isn’t fair.  Bad shit happens.  To all.  There are good times…and bad.  If you’re looking for perfect…being a human being may have been the wrong choice.

I believe in one race.  The human race.  It’s what I write on every form I fill out.  Race?  Human.  I’ve had a clerk tell me that’s an incorrect answer.  I replied that it was the only answer.

I could go on and on citing specific situations and offering my opinion, but I think I’ve said enough.  In short, we all have our opinions and there are going to be differences in our thinking.  Sometimes it’s a good thing to keep our mouth shut.  Sometimes it’s important to stand up for what we believe in.

My opinion will occasionally be expressed here.  That’s probable.  I hope it will always be well thought out and rational.  But…I have been know to mess up…a lot.

I don’t want to live in a bubble where everyone around thinks the same way I think and believes the same way I believe.  Diversity is a beautiful thing.

Let’s agree to this…if something is ever written here that bothers you or that you disagree with strongly…let’s discuss it.  Let’s see if we can meet in the middle or agree to disagree.  The world needs more friendship, more conversation, more civilized debate, more open-mindedness, more positive interactions…

“Unfriending” is not the answer.