Friends I Haven’t Met Yet
Things are rarely what they seem. “Everything is the opposite of how it appears” Mr. Lennon once said.
But how things seem or appear at first can prejudice me. Like I was saying in my post last weekabout ESP, etc., my mind is often closed to those facts that don’t fit my philosophy. I’ve heard anecdotal evidence all my life of astrology’s validity, for example. Yet I remain convinced it’s a false science. And people who believe in UFOs? I think they’re mostly nut cases, yet I know my brother (who swears he saw one) is not (I mean not for the most part).
The “Truthers” – those who promote the idea that “9/11 was an inside job” repulse me. But I must admit I’m not even open to examining their evidence (and if I were, certainly not with an open mind). The idea that the government is filled with men so evil that they’d conspire to kill 3,000 of their fellow citizens in order to promote a war mentality and reign in our liberties is not only paranoid and ludicrous to me, but simply too scarily outside my worldview for me to seriously consider.
Likewise, in my personal life, there are those who I am also prone to close my mind to. One is a man who regularly puts me down and infuriates me. We clash all the time. Yet he’s also full of insight and useful advice. In a workshop long ago I was challenged with this question: “Do you only allow yourself to have as friends people you like?” What a question! This man is a friend, although I don’t like him. What one might call a “dark ally”.
So I wonder – am I limiting myself? What if my chief criteria for friendship — instead of people who like and respect me and who are like me or who are pleasant – was value? People who could teach me something I needed to learn? How would this open up my life?
Why am I talking about all this? Because if we’re going to survive you and I need to evolve, and that means breaking down the walls in our heads and between each other.
Here in New York, we can see these walls in the political arena. This city is rife with what I call political bigotry. It’s a liberal democratic town, and I for the most part consider myself a member of this tribe. Yet it’s exactly its tribalism that bothers me. During the Bush years especially, if you had dared point out that the president was not evil incarnate, or that he did anything positive at all (like how he greatly increased funding for fighting AIDS in Africa, for example) you’d be viewed with deep suspicion and perhaps be ostracized.
Let me say this another way. A few years back – I think this was about 15 years ago or so, there was this news story about a high school girl, out in the Midwest I believe, who got pregnant and decided to have the baby. When the pregnancy started to show, she was called into the principal’s office and told to leave the school until she had had her child. She was setting a bad example for the rest of the students, they explained. She appealed up to the head of the local board of ed, but was turned down. So what do you think she did? She spoke to the local Arch Diocese, pointing out that the school board would have let her return to class had she chosen to abort the child. Who exactly was setting the bad example, she asked them. Well, you can bet this girl was whisked back into class faster than you could say “strange bedfellows”!
In other words, coalitions await we haven’t dreamt of, if we take down the walls, starting in our minds.
Like the middle aged church going business woman I know who responded to my enthusiasm about the killing of bin Ladin with this: “Nice to see that Bin Laden is out of the picture. But somehow in my mind celebrating the death of even an evil person does not sit right with me.”
Which brings me to an article in yesterday’s Times. A shocking piece you might have run across but perhaps didn’t read; one that challenges me to rethink my ideas about “us” and “them”. The article is entitled “An Antiwar Republican, No Longer His Party’s Pariah”. It’s about a conservative congressman from North Carolina (anti-abortion; pro-military spending, pro-religious; the very same congressman, the Times says, who “famously convinced cafeterias in the House to rename their French fries ‘freedom fries’” back in 2002; a protege of Jesse Helms) named Walter B. Jones.
“…He is emerging as a leading advocate for swiftly withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan, a position that has made him, of all things, a liberal hero.” His amendment last month to accelerate those withdrawals almost passed because he and 26 other Republicans, including three elected with Tea Party support, voted for it. The Times continues, “Some foreign policy analysts now see Mr. Jones…and a small coterie of Tea Party stalwarts as the leading edge of a conservative movement to rein in American military power…”
And get this: “A convert to Roman Catholicism, Mr. Jones says…his faith caused him to question the war.”
The Catholic Church again! What in err… heaven’s name is going on here?!
Well, to paraphrase Will Rogers, we have friends we haven’t met yet. He was referring to strangers, or those we may classify as Other. We practice all our forms of bigotry – whether racial, political, or otherwise – to our own detriment.
So I go back to Mr. Lennon again and that thing he said about everything being the opposite of what it appears. Perhaps you can supply other such examples. All I know is, I’ve missed opportunities in my life because they didn’t come in the shape or wrapped in the color I liked. Including ideas and people. And I know as I age I am tending, as most of us do, to get more set in my ways, not less. So I need to keep shaking myself up so as to keep ripening, and not rotting, as I grow old.