Tuesday, February 8, 2011

What the World Needs Now...

I read a lovely little story the other day. It's in Hillary Rodham Clinton's biography, Living History, and she quotes her husband giving the eulogy at her father's funeral.

"In 1974 when I made my first political race," he said, "I ran in a congressional district where there were a lot of Republicans from the Middle West. And my future father-in-law came down in a Cadillac with an Illinois license plate; never told a living soul I was in love with his daughter, just went up to people and said, 'I know that you're a Republican and so am I. I think Democrats are just one step short of communism, but this kid's all right.' "

This warmed my heart, and I don't think it happened because of anything special about Bill Clinton; I believe it was something special about Hugh Rodham. His daughter described him as a staunch Republican who "started out in life inheriting every prejudice imaginable in his working-class, Protestant family--against Democrats, Catholics, Jews, and blacks--and anyone else considered outside the tribe."

The truth is that most of our negative ideas about people who are different from us aren't really true, and deep down, I think most of us already know that. But it takes incredible maturity and humility to be able to overcome long-standing, deep-seated prejudices; to realize that what you believe, maybe even what your parents and grandparents believed, just isn't true; to understand that a person can be a truly good person and still have beliefs, traditions, and a culture that are completely opposite of yours. 

Human beings are infinitely complex creatures, and yet for some reason we like to try and simplify each other. The fact is that you can't know someone based on their religious affiliation, their political convictions, their hobbies, their race, their job, where they live, or the emails they forward. These are all external factors, motivated by something deeper (or sometimes just circumstantial), and we can't know what that motivation is without getting to know a lot more about the person.

I wonder if there any differences that couldn't be overcome if we could learn to treat everyone like a member of our family whom we have to love, even if we disagree with them. As a very lovely man said, "Love is the only force that can erase the differences between people or bridge the chasms of bitterness." It takes a lot of strength to become this kind of person--but imagine what the world would be like if we all tried.

1 comment:

Jenna said...

I wish more people would step back and consider things this way. I was just speaking to a friend about this the other day. To take one single aspect, if some of those people would stop to do a little research regarding religion, it is amazing how many religions/spiritual ideas a)coincide with one another, except for what name we call God, and b)can be practiced simultaneously, without compromising one's beliefs. At any rate, I believe there is a lot that can be learned from truly listening and trying to understand just one other person's point of view, particularly if it differs greatly from your own.