Respect*

I love the mysterious ways in which the Universe works through “coincidences” which align to bring us gems of insight and wisdom.   (It has been said that “Coincidence is when God is acting anonymously.” )

Two recent coincidences involve a news report from the State of the Union speech and an old  TV rerun  of Star Trek: The Next Generation which appeared on our local station a short time later.

The first event was the inspiring story of a North Korean refugee who was invited to attend the State of Union address.  The full story of Ji Seong Ho can be read in the article first published in The New York Times and then republished as an article in The Kansas City Star.

While the young man’s story is impelling, my attention was caught by the closure of the article:  “But Trump’s mention of Ji in his speech also raised some eyebrows, given the president’s stance on immigration and tough border enforcement.  ‘Ok, Ji Seong Ho’s story is tragic, but wouldn’t it also make him exactly the kind of refugee Trump wants to keep out of America?” one Twitter user wrote.”

This Twitter user actually makes two points, one of them intentional. The perhaps-unintentional point is that once any group (or issue) acquires a direct “human face” then it is much more difficult to keep one’s prejudices. Note that even Donald Trump (who indeed has said that he wants a different kind of immigrant) was impressed enough to invite this young man as his guest. That is the power of face-to-face encounters and the effect of treating people as human beings instead of symbols and statistics.

The Star Trek episode in question is I, Borg which was originally broadcast in 1992.  (For non-Trekkies, this episode was about one Borg – a being who exists only as a part of a collective, with no sense of self-identity – who was rescued by the crew of the Enterprise and, through daily contact and open communication, began to be considered as an individual by the crew and, in turn, came to possess a sense of identity himself, as a direct result of that consideration.)

My take-away from these two stories is that, if people are treated with respect and honor and we are open to the uniqueness and value of each individual, the very act of respect and openheartedness  has the power to transform.

At one point in I, Borg, the character Gordy, who is trying to evidence Guinan that the Borg had undergone an awakening, said “Why don’t you just listen?”   This is exactly what we all need to do in these divisive times … just listen to what people are saying – not so much the words, as the underlying self that is being exposed.  If an otherwise kind person uses extremely unkind language to describe another, perhaps it is more likely an indication of the speaker’s own fears, not simply the speaker’s prejudices towards others.   Prejudice, the child of hatred, is always rooted in fear.  The dichotomy we face is not Love vs. Hate – it is Love vs. Fear.   One of my favorite wisdom-sayings is from Chief Dan George of the Salish Band: “…what you do not know you will fear. What one fears one destroys.”

Fear has been used through the ages as a tool of oppression.  More insidious, and harder to eradicate, is what we might euphemistically call “fear from below, not fear from above.”   In other words, those in power learned long ago that fear of reprisal from a totalitarian source would cause a corresponding backlash of rebellion which could threaten the authoritarian; however, fear of one’s fellow citizens would manifest in a hatred of others – other classes of citizens, other races, other religions – which would work to the authoritarian’s benefit by dividing potential threats of rebellion.   It worked in the pre-Civil War South to bolster slavery (and, even later, in “Jim Crow” laws), it worked in Nazi Germany and in a hundred other times and places. Unfortunately, it always works until people understand that they are being manipulated and demand an end to the manipulation.

Sunday, February 4, 2018, was the Super Bowl and, with the Super Bowl come the annual and famous Super Bowl commercials, which have come to be somewhat of an annual “event” themselves.  Now, I am decidedly not a sports fan and never watch the Super Bowl, but I have done some research on the commercials.   Four commercials in particular stand out as evidence of hope – evidence that the real America (the America of dreams and hopes and equality and justice) is still vibrant.  Kraft Foods said “There is no one right way to family.” T-Mobile said: “We are equal.” Coca-Cola said “We all have different looks and loves.” Toyota said “We’re all one team.”   Unfortunately, there were negative comments – like people who think T-Mobile is “preaching” to them (well, yes) or people who swear to never eat Kraft cheese again because the commercial showed babies of diverse backgrounds (that’s OK – more cheese for us!) – but the fact that multinational corporations would paid ridiculous sums of money to air commercials with an inclusive message means that their research leads them to believe that the majority of American TV viewers feel the same way.

So, while I cannot hold out hope that the administration currently in control of our government believes in the American Dream, apparently the marketing analysis of big corporations indicates that the majority of us believe that way — and THAT gives me hope.

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*Photo by official WH photographer Pete Souza, as  part of the Official White House Photostream, used under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

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