Here, in the United States, a lot has been happening lately; the kinds of things that represent some of the worst problems that beset our world—ISIS, Syria, North Korea, people who shoot schoolchildren for no discernable reason, and others who kill someone just to put it on Facebook. It seems the world is falling deeper into anger, hatred, protectionism, and bigotry. Promoting a simple-minded we versus they mentality enables human beings to treat one another atrociously.
“We” consists of the group with whom the speaker identifies. “They” refers to those thought to be inferior. And not just those of another religion, country, or ethnicity. Today, anyone who holds different political views can be reviled. We’ve all paid a price for this—either because we were its victims or its perpetrators. Narrow-mindedness makes us shallow, less vital, and certainly less humane.
As years melt into one another, countries (and corporations) come closer to realizing a multi-ethnic population. In well-intentioned efforts, educators and some politicians struggle to teach (or insist upon) cultural diversity by emphasizing respect for differing values, beliefs, and behaviors. The trouble is that focusing on differences can lead to condescension, which itself is a form of prejudice. Perhaps worse, those who grow up thinking they were superior react with anger.
The only really effective way to overcome bigotry is with familiarity. Human beings really are more alike than they are different. Clothing, mores, food preferences, religion, politics, and lifestyle are superficial. Our similarities are inherent and intrinsic. We all need food, shelter, and meaningful work. We all love our children and want them to have a decent start in life. Most want acceptance. All need respect.
Over the years, I’ve learned that the content of peoples’ hearts is not determined by their ethnicity, religion, or political affiliation. And even though the rhetoric of an increasing number of politicians gives me pause, I still maintain this principle’s validity. We—countries and individuals—have our own perspectives and beliefs, and I guess we think we’re right or we wouldn’t hold them. However, when attitudes harden into bigotry and envy into hatred, we’re the ones who become less than human.
My daughter Rose once told me that she stopped dating a man because he was rude to waiters. Someone who’s rude to waiters, sales clerks, or anyone else they deem to be their subordinate will be found wanting on all major issues. They’re expressing their values in these situations. Believe them! People live their values every day, reflexively, in hundreds of different ways. In the end, they become what they express.
Any country that allows or, God forbid, fosters bias through its laws, policies, or the behavior of its leaders ultimately will be found wanting in all major ways. Countries, like people, live their values every day, reflexively, in the laws they proclaim, in the policies they adopt, and in the decisions its leaders make. Ideally, people are supposed to make choices between good and bad, civil and rude, but most people tend to believe in “majority rule.” And we have an easy way to process “good and bad” and “right and wrong.” It’s called the opinion polls—morality by count. The larger the number, the greater the “truth.” Instead of inquiring why this or that behavior pattern is preferable, pollsters ask only, “How many?”
How many and how good are simply not the same questions. It feeds hatred and violence, ultimately subverting justice. In the final analysis, character (of person or country) is a matter of value choices. On the face of it, consideration for others shouldn’t be a terribly difficult proposition. It takes no more energy to be thoughtful than to be thoughtless, to be accepting rather than condemning, to be kind rather than intolerant. Life is so much better that way.
Leah Curtin, RN, ScD(h), FAAN
Executive Editor, Professional Outreach