So, I’ll just admit it. Five years ago, I was a hater. A big time hater who eschewed most of what he believed in in order to advocate for what he believed in. I think the technical term for this is hypocrite. And like most things, it got worse before it got better (assuming I can justifiably call where I am now better… I have no idea how I will judge myself in five more years).
This little epiphany came to me shortly after I was sorting through and processing news related to Jason Collins, specifically the reactions of other people to his announcement. This may seem unrelated to what follows, but bear with me… they connect (at least in they mystical ether more commonly referred to as my brain). A friend came up to me and showed me a picture on Facebook with President Bush and President Obama standing together with a caption that read something like “like if you think Bush was a better President.”
Laughter ensued, and a few snarky comments as well. But then it struck me, there are a lot of people who would be inclined to hit that like button. A lot of good, intelligent, compassionate people for that matter. And here I was mocking them, and then… suddenly… I was transported back in time to 1984 with the sage words of none other than the great prophet General Public resounding through my mind and into my soul:
I don’t know where I am but I know I don’t like it
I open my mouth and out pops something spiteful
Words are so cheap, but they can turn out expensive
Words like conviction can turn into a sentence
Hyperbole aside, this is where my mind went. I pointed out to my friend that, in fact, there is a group of people who really sincerely believe that President Bush was the better leader of the free world. I went on to say (in my mind) “who am I to berate them for that?” Our country is deeply divided right now over… well.. pretty much everything. This is not because one side is clearly right and the other side is clearly wrong (if that were true we wouldn’t be so deeply and evenly divided); more-so, it is because we are investing so much time and energy in pretending that the other side is clearly wrong – and deriding them for it – that we aren’t spending any (or at least enough) time actually trying to come up with solutions.
I, for example, in my excitement to support the candidate I had chosen, jumped firmly on the waxing tide of vitriol being heaped on outgoing President Bush as part of the Obama campaign. Completely ignoring the fact that Bush was not running in 2008, so anything dumped on him had nothing to do with the election that year. What I saw in Obama, a chance for progress toward general equality and tolerance I was conveniently evading in my own political rhetoric.
Coming back to Mr Collins announcement yesterday. I am happy, impressed and (more than anything else) thankful with/to him for taking that all important first step and “coming out.” I was also overwhelmed with the initial outpouring of positive emotion and support for him from athletes and others. Then some of the “other” responses started to trickle in. Mark Jackson said:
“As a Christian man, I have beliefs of what’s right and what’s wrong. That being said, I know Jason Collins, I know his family and I’m certainly praying for them at this time.”
This was actually filed under the “positive” responses… I didn’t take it that way (I’m not going to go into how I did take it as that would run contrary to what I’m trying to say with this post… you can be your own judge).
Mike Wallace posted an update on twitter wondering why, with so many attractive females around, a guy would want to mess around with another guy. An ESPN reporter went off on a bit of a rant about living in sin and what it was or was not to be Christian.
It was Mr. Wallace’s comments that really struck me. My instant (in my mind, again) response was something along the lines of:
That’s like asking a football player (which he is) – “with so many good basketball games going on, why would you want to waste your time on football” – or, asking a person who is eating Thai food – “with so many good Italian joints out there, why would you take your chances on Thai”…
In short, it’s a matter of taste. My sister (despite being brought up in a good family and being loved as a child) loves (**LOVES**) mayonnaise. I, by contrast, loath the fact that it exists and might accidentally get on a spoon I could possibly use months (and numerous washings) later. Other than the fact that *I think* she is bat-shit crazy for liking the stuff, there is nothing wrong with my sisters view. Further, no amount of intense personal loathing of the creamy white menace on my part will make her wrong (let alone change her taste for it).
There is also nothing wrong with Mr. Collins being more attracted to men than to women. In a more open, equal society he might be just as confused about why Mr. Wallace likes women as Mr. Wallace is currently confused about Collins predilection toward men. And that’s the thing, we should be able to treat someones sexual orientation (or political views) like my sister and I treat her taste (or my lack thereof) for mayonnaise (with respectful levity if anything at all).
But somehow we can’t. Bush has to be a villain and the worst President in history, God has to hate fags, I’m supposed to hate Mike Wallace (or Chris Culliver before him) and on and on it goes. What we fail to grasp, at times, is that while something may be a complete abomination to some of us (I’m looking at you, mayonnaise), what someone else feels about it is none of our business. Even when we view it as a sin or a blight against humanity we also need to remember that people are blessed with free will and can sin, blight, and abominate to their hearts content… so long as they are not harming others in the process. It is not our job to “fix” them, and even if it were… hating on them won’t do it.
The same friend who brought me the picture this morning also made the point to me yesterday that people shouldn’t be chided for openly and honestly sharing their feelings (ALA Mr. Wallace), even if they run contrary to the feel good mood of the day. And he’s right. He’s right because at the end of the day it’s not how well we articulate our opinions of someone else’s views that will make the world a better place, but rather, how well we tolerate, understand and ultimately respect those views no matter how much we might disagree with them.