At the margins of society
I was inspired today. I had the opportunity to hear two great people, who are doing amazing things for the good of all humankind, speak to their commitment to help those who find themselves at the margins of society. What does that mean, the margins of society? I think of those who for one reason or another have been deemed of lesser importance or have been marked as fundamentally bad for some reason or another. This practice of separating a group of people from the core of society and pushing them to the edges is, in my opinion, unacceptable. Marginalizing peoples undermines progress towards the ideal where all lives have equal value. There has been some progress made, but we still have far to go.
It is sobering to imagine being part of a group that is marginalized. Instead of the safety which society can confer, you are pushed to the edges, exposing you to dangers and challenges that do not afflict the core of society. If you will indulge me in painting a perhaps dramatic picture, those pushed from the core of society to the margins little by little are pushed to a cliff’s edge, where if this pushing continues they will inevitably meet with disaster. I see this separation and pushing people to the margins as very insidious and must be opposed whenever it rears it’s ugly head. History is replete with tragic, and frankly disgusting, tales of scapegoats that paid the price for misguided fears. In fact, fear is important to acknowledge in this phenomenon of creating marginalized peoples. That is, the “pushers” are generally not bad people, rather they are those who have taken counsel from their fears rather than from mutual concern that they should have for their fellow men and women. With the perspective that history provides, which shines a light on the misguided thinking of the past, should make it all the easier to see that persecuting the margins of society has never nor will it ever solve societal problems. Yet somehow we continue to make the same mistakes over and over.
What do we do about the myriad problems that inspire the fear that cause some to marginalize others? My view: we need to talk and we need to listen, with a ratio of two parts listening to every part of talking. Fear dissipates when we truly understand others. Meanwhile, dogma stops us from listening to one another. The degree to which sacrosanct monoliths of political platforms and parties drive the conversation, we will see stalemate after stalemate. If facile arguments about who is to blame for problems so complex as to defy the very definition of the problem rule the day, we will fail to drive positive change. I reject these dogmatic ways. I reject fealty to parties. I embrace true discussions where people bring their own values and principles and engage in a conversation of understanding. To borrow from E.J. Dionne, I welcome a world that, in the spirit of resolving problems, ennobles the word argument and politics. I applaud the world where decency and kindness towards one another are based on our common belief that we are all just people on this roller coaster ride together. I reject “us” versus “them.” As I noted above, this world I envisage does not presume we hold no personal beliefs, but that we are willing to engage in productive discussion with others to solve problems instead of fighting a war of attrition between ideologies.
As an American, I want to note that I believe that our institutions can guard against marginalizing peoples. We must be ever vigilant to ensure these institutions are not undermined. However, it is also undeniable that our institutions have not always done right by all people. It has taken a civil war, amendments to the constitution and various movements to get to where we are today. I lament that terribly, and recognize there are people who for generations have been disadvantaged by a system that had two sets of rules, despite what is now the letter of the law. This is, in a word, abominable. Perhaps, we now have the words on the pages that protect our people, but we have so far to go to make it real, to make the form of government we have really work for everyone. It’s on us to make sure we don’t lose the hard-won gains and regress to a system that was so very deplorable.
Now the hard part: we have to really listen to one another. I have a point of view, and perhaps the broad brushstrokes of this world view come through in this piece. But, I would not want that to come across as my saying, “if you don’t see it this way, change, so you can be right like me.” I cannot ignore the possibility that I could be wrong on a number of points. We have to engage each other with respect and sincerity. No matter how deeply we hold something to be self-evident others may not, and it is these types of sticking points that won’t allow us to press on, together. However, it is my belief, even my hope, that as we sit as humans face to face to understand one another we will find the points of agreement to heal the fissures that started as little cracks and now threaten to become grand canyons between us. The time is now. I believe we can all play our own part in this. I wrote about being healers, and I still believe that. We can be healers and we can be listeners. I believe that we all want a society that works for everyone, ourselves included, so let’s start there and build brick by brick!
To conclude, we, as a species, share 99.9% of the same DNA, let’s not use the 0.1% to marginalize people. As to our values, we have so much in common there too. Let’s not magnify differences to perpetuate the bubble societies, a breeding ground of fear of “otherness”. Let’s reject marginalization. Let’s go to the aid of those being marginalized and pull them back from the cliff’s edge. Let’s do it because it is the right thing to do. But, if we must have a selfish reason, perhaps those who have not felt what it is to be marginalized could experience an abrupt reversal of fortunes staring down at a rocky shore below at the cliff’s edge. Alas, should short, white, bald guys become public enemy number one, I hope someone will come to my aid just as I will do for other groups at the margins now.