Posts tagged " discrimination "

Stop Lumping Us All Together

February 6th, 2017 Posted by Thought Tools 32 comments

Exactly 60 days before America’s historic presidential election of November 8th, 2016, while speaking to a group of supporters in New York City, Hillary Clinton made the following declaration: “…you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?”  Candidate Clinton was still at the podium when one of her closest advisors on the campaign texted a friend saying, “With that statement Hillary just lost the race!”  He was right.

How could a smart and ambitious woman say such a stupid thing?  True, she had abandoned the TelePrompter, gone off script and was speaking from her heart.  But still, it was political suicide.

Why did she say it?  Because the temptation to lump many into one is all but irresistible.  How often do you hear politicians bolstering their own positions by saying, “The American people…”  Nice sentiment, but there has never been one American people and there certainly isn’t one now.

One often hears the phrase, “the Black community”   There is no such thing.  There could hardly be a greater gulf than that between Al Sharpton and the late, great Pastor Ken Hutcherson who was an NFL linebacker before he began pastoring the successful Antioch Bible Church in Puget Sound.  There’s nothing those two would have agreed upon other than perhaps that both their skins were black.

And for a real laugh, listen to people referring to “the Jewish community.”  The only thing  that all of America’s 4 million Jews would agree upon is that Hitler was a very bad man.  Yet most of us find ourselves saying things that lump the many into the one.

Why do all my children always pick a busy morning to act up?  All the available men out there are emotionally needy adolescents.  None of my employees appreciate how much I do for them. 

This is not to say that generalities have no value.  Of course, there is some truth to generalities.  In general, teenage boys drive more recklessly than teenage girls.  In general, customers in that zip code look more to quality than price.  By using the phrase “in general” we acknowledge that not everyone is included.

Why do we feel drawn to lumping the many into the one?

Reason 1:  It is emotionally satisfying to strip the individuality of those annoying us and see them all as sharing one common negative trait.  Those Moslems are all the same.  All TSA agents are recruited from a special pool of the dimwitted.

Reason 2:  We are subconsciously enchanted by the unity of monotheism.  Everything is created by and controlled by one God.  I may not fully understand that, but I believe it and love living in a world explained by that simple reality.  One is appealing.

Just think which of these feature articles you’d be most likely to read.  (a) The Number One Reason Women Wear Makeup.  (b)  Twelve Reasons Women Wear Makeup.  (a) Seven Really Fast Cars Below $70,000.  (b) The Fastest Car You Can Buy for Under $70,000.

When he died, Albert Einstein was trying to discover what he called The Unified Field Theory.  We already had four perfectly solid theories that explained the behavior of different forces like gravity, magnetism, and nuclear.  But Einstein wanted one simple theory that did it all.  Lumping the many into the one is nothing more than asserting a unified field theory for the many different things or people on our minds.

Lumping the many into the one misleads us.  Often in casual conversation, the damage is minor and short-lived.  However, when we start habitually thinking in terms of lumping the many into the one it accustoms us to an incorrect way of judging reality.  We lose our ability to observe subtle distinctions.

Consider the first chapter of the Bible.  Quick now…what did God create on Day One?  That’s right, heaven, earth, and light.  Day Three? Dry land and vegetation. Day Four? Sun, moon and stars.  Day Five? Sea life and birds.  Day Six?  Animals and humans.  That’s basically the story of Creation.  But wait!  I left out Day Two.

What did God create on Day Two?

And God said let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters and let it divide water from water.
(Genesis 1:6)

Do you know what a firmament is?  The only definition I can confidently share with you is that firmament is the word the translators of the King James Bible in the 17th century came up with for the Hebrew word RaKiaH.

And God made the firmament and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament, and it was so.
(Genesis 1:7)

Back to my question, what did God create on Day Two?  Apparently some inexplicable and unnamed thing that divides between one set of waters and another.  Distinguishing between two or more humans is usually quite easy.  One should easily be able to avoid the temptation of saying, “All my customers try to irritate me.”  Distinguishing between different makes of cars is quite simple.  But the one thing that is hard to distinguish is one cup of water from another.  Or for that matter, can one really tell the difference between water from one ocean and water from another? Where do the waters of the Indian and the Atlantic oceans really meet?  Cape Town’s tourist bureau insists that this occurs right in the shadow of Table Mountain, but the truth is that nobody can know.  It’s impossible to separate one water from another.  Yet that is exactly what God does on Day Two.

Ancient Jewish wisdom teaches that on Day Two God created distinction and separation. Day Two is the only one of the six days on which we don’t hear God saying, “it was good.”  Separation, distinction, and division are absolutely necessary, but they have the potential to drive humans apart and we must know how ‘not good’ that can be. Our challenge is to make distinctions while respecting each other.

At the moment, our society feels an almost irresistible temptation to lump the two genders into one group of humans utterly indistinguishable from one another by any fixed sexual reality.  The sixth and seventh verses of the first chapter in Genesis teach the importance of making distinctions, appreciating those distinctions and recognizing their value.

The magical but highly improbable living arrangement we call ‘marriage’ functions precisely because it is between two different kinds of humans, men and women.

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Religious Discrimination?

September 13th, 2011 Posted by Susan's Musings 7 comments

A few people who read that my son and his classmates were going to be penalized in their medical school grades for missing so many days while fully observing the fall Jewish holidays, wrote me that they saw this as religious discrimination.  I disagree.

As a mother, I was certainly unhappy to hear that my son’s hard work was going to be automatically downgraded, but I am intensely wary of throwing around the “D” word. Our society’s movement from being one of obligations and gratitude towards a culture built on rights and entitlements has gone hand in hand with an increase in litigious behavior. The word “discrimination” has become a loaded gun, and one which in my mind often blows up in the face of those who wield it.  Certainly, a society needs a legal system to thrive, but I believe that as more laws trying to combat discrimination get put on the books, one consequence is the shattering of human relationships replaced by an increase in suspicion and hostility.

We can (and have) outlawed employer’s asking all sorts of questions or refusing to hire someone based on all sorts of criteria, but do we honestly think that those laws don’t come with a price? I know too many truly unprejudiced people who hired an employee and then were blindsided when the new hire proved incompetent or worse. They found that because the employee fit into a “protected” group firing that person was an expensive, legal nightmare.  Among other things, can we truly proclaim that our minority youth unemployment rate is divorced from the speed with which the legal and media communities exploit the words “bigotry” and “discrimination”?

There was a time through much of the twentieth century when Jews were frequently excluded from jobs and schools solely because of being Jewish, as determined by their having Jewish names or appearances. This discrimination (in this case a proper use of the word) ended as people got to know their Jewish neighbors. If your child was sick were you not going to use the Jewish doctor with the excellent reputation and wonderful bedside manner? And having come to love him would you agitate for his son to be excluded from your alma mater? Would you rather see your business do less well than your competitor’s by refusing to hire the Jewish CPA? Would you rather remain unemployed than take a job in a Jewish-owned company? Were you really going to insist on not hiring your neighbor and friend?  Like many other immigrant and minority groups, through hard work and good citizenship, that prejudice diminished as Jews gained a reputation and established relationships.

What does this have to do with my son today? A small minority of America’s Jewish population today adheres to Jewish law regarding things like Sabbath and holiday observances and kosher food. For those of us who believe that God spoke to Moses on Sinai, giving him rules by which the Jewish people should live and that those rules were faithfully handed down through the generations, it is a privilege to be part of that chain of transmission.

As part of that choice we know that certain activities, ranging from community baseball leagues with practices on Saturday to local youth drama groups with performances on Friday night are ones in which we, and our children, cannot participate. We cannot ignore the Sabbath and holidays any more than we can run into the neighborhood (unkosher) fast food restaurant.  But in a free society, such as America, that is a voluntary choice we make and as with all choices, we need to accept the consequences.

Whether attending college or professional school or working, we know that needing to be home by 4 p.m. on winter Friday afternoons for the Sabbath (whose beginning is connected to sunset) or not being able to work on Saturday no matter how urgent the business emergency, will most likely be alien to the culture of most schools and offices. We recognize that it is not necessarily discriminatory if those in positions of responsibility don’t automatically concede, “No problem. Of course I’ll change my expectations to make things work for you.”  There are four ways for Jews to deal with this. The first is to establish one’s own businesses and schools, which partially explains Jewish entrepreneurship in the last century but does have its limitations. The second way is to enclose ourselves in a secluded enclave, studying and working only within the confines of the Orthodox Jewish community. The third is to bring lawsuits or otherwise try to bludgeon others to accommodate us. (That method means that we must demand the same accommodations for members of all other religious groups as well, whose unintended consequences in my mind will lead to a lessening of America’s Christian nature and her subsequently being a less hospitable place for Jews.) The last method is to earn respect and forge relationships, refusing to see ourselves as victims.

The Jewish students in my son’s class who don’t observe the holy days and will be attending class rather than synagogue used words like, “discrimination” and “offended.” However, the six religious students whose grades were to be impacted were disappointed but accepting. They appreciate the overtures the school has made to them, for example going out of their way to provide kosher food at functions, and see the reality of lower grades simply as a willing price they pay for their loyalty to God’s commandments. They each could have chosen to go to medical school in Israel and instead chose to attend this particular school in America.

They responded to the news that class attendance was mandatory and a major part of the grading by accepting that they would have to work twice as hard to do as well as their classmates. They also decided to send a polite letter to the administration clarifying what their religious obligations were. They understood that since the members of the administration probably all had Jewish friends who were adamant about their Jewish identity at the same time as they ate pork, worked on the Sabbath and treated the Jewish holidays as little more than nice times for family get-togethers with perhaps an optional appearance at synagogue, those in charge might understandably be confused by the religious students’ position.

As it turned out, as they were composing this letter, they received an email informing them that the administration was considering changing their position. What happened? I don’t know for sure, but my guess is that someone in the administration spoke about the issue with a Jewish friend or colleague who explained the students’ stance. Since the attendance policy was not implemented as a tool of prejudice and no defensive front was erected as happens when one is accused of being a bigot, the issue is being resolved without threats and with harmony, each side respectful of and appreciating the other.  Which leaves this Jewish mother proud of her son and grateful for living in this wonderful country.

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