Sunday, May 24, 2015

The Will Of The Irish

The size of the majority of the vote on same-sex marriage in Ireland yesterday says this was not about luck, but about will.  

A regular reader here who lives much closer to Ireland sent me links to two different articles on the election, one from the Irish Times,  "Ireland has left ‘tolerance’ far behind" and the other from The Guardian, "Ireland is a kinder, fairer place after voting for same-sex marriage."

The Irish Times article says near the beginning:
"It looks like a victory for tolerance. But it’s actually an end to mere toleration.
Tolerance is what “we” extend, in our gracious goodness, to 'them'. It’s about saying 'You do your own thing over there and we won’t bother you so long as you don’t bother us'."

The word 'tolerance' as a goal has always bothered me.  Tolerance is the lowest level of acceptance.  Tolerating is  putting up with something that you don't agree with.  Tolerance is not a word I imagine that Jesus Christ would have used or approved of.  He said to 'love' one's neighbors, even one's enemies.  Not 'tolerate' them. 

I did actually google  Jesus and the word tolerance, and I got an article entitled "Bible Verses About Tolerance: 21 Scripture Quotes."  None of the 21 quotes actually has the word tolerance in them.  Someone merely found passages that seemed to cover the idea they had of tolerance.   Quotes like:
"Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand."
How people 'know' things and by extension, how the come to change what they 'know' is an underlying theme of this blog.  I'm convinced that 'knowing' is something we do non-rationally.  It's somehow linked in our brains to our fight or flight response - is this a danger to me?   And the less we know about something, the more likely we are to put it into the danger category.  It's why some people fear flying, but think nothing of driving, even though statistically one's odds are much better flying.  But it's easy to viscerally understand that if cars crash, they are, at least, already on the ground, and relatively few of us truly understand what keeps a plane up in the air.  We may have read an explanation, even be able to recite the explanation.  But unless we 'get it' in the sense that we 'feel' its correctness, we don't really 'know' it.  

We can 'know' a lot of things that are incorrect.  Things that 'make sense', that feel natural.  But are wrong.  And the more being 'right' threatens our way of life, the longer we believe what's wrong.  Find me a climate change denier today, and I'll find you some strong connection they have to the fossil fuel industry. 

So how do we people change what they know?  How can we help that process along?

When I taught about values in my graduate classes, I had one section where everyone had to bring some food that would help us understand who they were.  They also had to talk about a value they believed in strongly and explain what happened in their lives to cause that to be an important value.  For instance, for me, siding with immigrants fleeing from a dangerous homeland has always been important.  My parents were immigrants who fled Nazi Germany, so I come to this value in a very personal way.  Sure, there are people who take advantage of the system, but it's better, in my mind,  to let in a few fakers, than turn away genuine refugees fleeing from terrible deprivation and death.  

I recall one night in class where one student showed us photos of her cats, dogs, and a bunny, I believe.  She was a member of PETA and a strong animal rights advocate.  She talked about how important pets had always been in her life.   About 30 minutes later, another student showed us a photograph of himself and his dad with the first time caribou he'd ever shot.  This was an important father and son bonding activity.  

These class sessions profoundly changed how students interacted in the rest of the class.  The PETA member didn't necessarily agree with the hunter (or vice versa) but at least they understood how the other got to that value.  It made a visceral sense. 

Watching the rapid (for significant social change) acceptance of gay marriage over the last 30 years (and if you were gay and of marrying age 30 years ago, I'm sure it didn't seem rapid),  I think a lot of it came about because people came to know lgbt people as the same as themselves, with this one minor difference.  I say minor, because when J and I were first married, our closest neighbors were a lesbian couple.  The better we got to know them over the years, the more their daily lives seemed to be wrapped around the same kinds of issues as ours: working, paying the bills, preparing food, keeping the garden nice, washing dishes, going to the movies,  getting the car fixed, and on and on.  They had good days as a couple and bad days.  The fact that they were both women really was a very minor difference.  Sure, it meant they weren't going to have children, but we had hetero friends who weren't going to have children either. 
When I was a kid growing up, I can think of one gay person that I knew of.  He was the brother of a friend of our parents.  He played the piano professionally and when we were at Seders at their house, I remember him always smoking a lot.  But so did his sister.  I don't even know when I came to know that he was, in those days, homosexual.  Probably when I was about 15 or 16 it slipped out from one of my parents' lips.  It was like saying he had cancer.   He was sort of a shadowy person and I don't recall ever even having any sort of conversation with him beyond hello and please pass the peas.    

In those days few people were open about their homosexuality.  There were men or women who never got married, and I guess adults may have wondered, but people didn't publicly openly identify themselves as gay.  There was no publicly visible gay community that I knew about.  Kids might call someone a faggot or queer at school, but it wasn't until my 10th or 15th high school reunion that I learned about classmates who were gay - because, by then, they had died of AIDS.  No, that's not quite true.  One came out in college and my step-father saved me a newspaper article about him being head of a gay student group at Berkeley. Randy had been a close friend in high school, but I never had a clue.   Later, he became the first openly gay judge in Los Angeles.  

I give all this history, because I think that once LGBT folks began to come out and thus force the rest of the world to acknowledge their existence, things began to change.  Until then, parents could pretend their daughter was living with her good friend because it made economic sense to share an apartment or house.  They could ignore the fact that not only was their 40 year old son unmarried, but he never seemed to talk about dating any women.  He was just too busy at work or something.   They might suspect, but they never talked about it.  Everyone could just pretend everything was 'normal.'

But once people started to come out to their parents, the parents had to come to terms with what they 'knew' about homosexuals and what they knew about their gay or lesbian (often adult) children.  Some disowned their children.  Others disowned what they knew about homosexuals.  

And once parents began accepting their children, aunts and uncles and grandparents were forced to make the same sorts of choices between throwing out the kids or throwing out their false knowledge.  And then it spread to friends of the parents, to people at work, and on and on.  The more people came to know they actually did know gay folks, people they had thought were good, normal people until they had come out, the more people had to reassess what they 'knew' about gays.  

Television and movies mirrored this by adding gay characters as 'real' people.  

Just as in my class exercise on values, people had to match what they knew about real individuals against their stereotypes.  

I suspect this evolution might have happened faster than for other outsider groups in society because gays were embedded, so to speak, in every racial and ethnic group, in every religious group, and in every economic and social group.   Protestant Irish probably have been more likely to have a gay dinner guest as part of a family holiday, than to have a Catholic.  (OK, that's a gross speculation on my part, but the point is, they've been less likely to have a family member of the 'other' religion than a gay family member.  You have to have someone convert or marry into the other religion, but a son or daughter or nephew or niece, is someone you've known all their lives.  

So I'm probably asking here whether we can learn to be first tolerant and then embracing of other 'others' the way Ireland has.  (And I'm assuming that everyone has heard that Ireland is the first country to actually vote for same-sex marriage, not have it imposed by a court or law, and that they did so with a very strong yes vote.)  Or whether there is something about the distribution of lgbt folks in society that gives them access to every part of society, that other outside groups don't have.  

In any case, the world is a better place today than it was a week ago, because of this vote.  While some will disagree with that assessment, mine is based on the assumption that the more people accept each other as fellow, equal human beings, the better off the world is. 

As one person is quoted in the Irish Times article, before the election, wrote: 
“I have two adult children. One is allowed to marry, the other is not. How can this be right?”

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. Tolerance on Memorial Day is an excellent thought.


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