mixed reviews: Finding compassion and forgiveness in disagreement
I’d like to think of bigotry as misunderstanding, that people are prejudiced because it makes sense to them to be so. In my lifetime, I have come into contact with individuals whom I have avoided associating with because of their discriminatory views. I hope that this fog of bigoted expressions that surrounds these individuals hides a genuinely kind person. Perhaps behind closed doors or in select company ignorant people are kind, loving and maybe even fun to be around. They must simply make inappropriate and inaccurate distinctions of who is worthy of their character and who deserves their disregard. Hopefully, people are revealing the concentrated worst of themselves through such conduct. I completely endorse condemning of this side of people, but I want to believe in anyone and everyone’s potential to be a humane, loving and an overall good person. When people are being prejudiced, they aren’t being themselves, or at least not their best selves. Ideally, we have the freedom to see people for their best rather than their worst. Though it may be difficult to do so, we should make an effort to remember behind every angry and hateful facade is (likely) a confused but well-intentioned and caring person.
Now, to grant this benefit of the doubt is not to sympathize with the enemy—or the oppressor. It is to envision a future in which all people can live free of unnecessary social limitations, including those who were once confused about right and wrong. Forgiveness is a cornerstone of social progress, for without forgiveness one system of hatred is replaced by another. Criticism and punishment are important in order to discourage certain behaviors and identify them as unacceptable.
However, punishment without forgiveness becomes revenge. If there is no hope of people being forgiven, if there is no place in the future for the ignorant (note: not the ignorance), then there is no hope for their enlightenment. If we cannot give forgiveness and make space for these people in our envisioned future, then we have failed them just as those who perpetuate inequality have failed us.
This past year has been full of controversy. People are very divided on various issues. Healthy discussions between disagreeing parties are rare and tensions are high. Despite the multitude of divisions, people on all sides are working to address the issues they recognize as detrimental to society. This is a wonderful thing, for communities, especially diverse ones, should identify and eradicate behaviors and beliefs that cause unwarranted stress and harm to others. That being said, we must move forward in a more inclusive manner. The success in reaching each other is impeded by our unwillingness to forgive and our craving to punish. Many voiced concerns focus on who to blame or what crimes have been committed rather than how to move forward together as a community. Our expressions must be less spiteful and more constructive. We will not make any progress if we are constantly trying to humiliate those who disagree with us. If we are to ask others to be more considerate, kind and accepting, then we must remain so through the entirety of the process, even when we don’t think we should have to be.
Too often we focus on what we shouldn’t have to do. We stubbornly refuse to tend to problems that we did not create, recognizing it to be the responsibility of the offending party to find a resolution. This is understandable, but it is, in fact, counterproductive. If we are not willing to contribute to a solution, then nothing will get done. The communities in which we live are shared spaces, much like an apartment, making all of their residents somewhat like roommates. If one roommate makes a mess, everyone suffers. If the other roommates refuse to clean up after the perpetrator (who will not clean unless assisted), then the mess will remain and likely grow. It is reasonable to hold the mess-maker accountable for their actions, but to live in filth because we shouldn’t have to take care of it is foolish. We point fingers when something is wrong. This is fine, but it cannot stop there. In order to really go somewhere with the movements to evoke social change that we lead and support, we must find a way to forgive and rehabilitate those whom we perceive as misled.
mixed reviews: Recognizing our prejudices will lead to progress
This week I had planned on writing about the responsibilities of privileged persons. I wanted to share my opinion that those who are unaffected by discrimination, prejudice and unjust biases are obligated to focus their attention on both thoroughly understanding and dismantling these issues. For whatever reason I was struggling to translate these thoughts to paper. That’s when Ivy Elgarten ’19 saved the day.
For those of you who do not know Ivy, she is a white cisgender Bowdoin student in the Class of 2019. Frankly, she is wonderful and you should all get to know her. This Tuesday, Ivy posted a Facebook status where she admitted to once having attitudes toward certain groups of people that she now recognizes as inappropriate and misguided. She went on ask others who share her position to reflect and address their own inner biases as well. She took accountability for her actions and asked for others to do the same but only after leading by example.
What Ivy did in 751 characters is what we should aim for in dialogue and our overall pursuit of harmony. The purpose of addressing these types of issues should be to generate an understanding of a different perspectives. This often results in an understanding of previously misunderstood issues. We need the receptors of these messages to be as willing to be wrong as Ivy is. For that reason, I think we as a community should applaud Ivy and others like her who submit themselves to the purpose of progress.
However, it is important to recognize that we should not be celebrating Ivy. The only reason to applaud those who overcome their prejudices is because people are not naturally compelled to do so. Not being ignorant should be nothing less than normal. Unfortunately, things are not as they should be. We live in a world full of ignorant influences. As a result, many, if not all, of us hold biased beliefs. For these reasons being educated in this regard is special. This is not to say that people like Ivy deserve more attention and recognition than members of marginalized communities and participants in movements that direct their efforts toward issues of difference as well. We still need to recognize that the leaders of any type of progress are those who are overcoming an obstacle(s). That being said, a pat on the back will not undermine progress altogether.
Acknowledging Ivy’s deed as a good one only encourages further similar behavior. Hopefully, if in the fight against inequality and oppression we incorporate positive reinforcement, more will be accomplished. Now, these are obviously my opinions. I cannot tell others how they must handle those who are ignorant to their situation. I do not feel I have the right to tell anyone how they should or can react to unfair treatment. That being said I do believe inclusive behaviors are more productive than exclusive practices in the grand scheme of things.