I hope everyone had a meaningful Thanksgiving!
Picking up where I left off, I want to discuss how a broader understanding of bigotry has helped me in my journey through life.
My confession: As stated in the previous blogs, I came to realize almost anything can be used to create an “us versus them” mentality. When I have not been careful, things I own, things I belong to, things I am, things I believe, things I accomplish, and much more have made me feel self-righteously better than others; creating a me-them mentality.
If anything leads me to believe I am better than others, I create a “me-them” situation. I have found this to be a subtle and insidious problem. I do not want to think I would ever be this way but it creeps in. My bigotry is more of self-righteousness and intolerance and not hatred, but when I am honest, I know it to be bigotry. Thus, I am a bigot in some matters.
This is the really big insight that has helped me in my journey, rather than denying bigotry and making false and phony claims like—I do not have a bigoted bone in my body, I am much better off trying to identify those bigotries that exist and the many places I have the potential for bigotry, way beyond race and gender.
I now look for my bigotry rather than believing I do not have any bigotry. It has occurred most often in small things: politics, regionalism, appearance, lack of manners, and many more areas. All are things that do not bring major harm to others, but I am better off recognizing the small prejudices to minimize the possibility of bigger ones.
Sport is a good example. I tried to think of an easy way to demonstrate how easy every human can fall into self-righteous bigotry. It dawned on me; I am writing this draft on rivalry Saturday. Many, many people have strong identities with a particular football team. If you ever doubted the possibility of belonging to a group having the potential for “us-them” mentality, this Saturday provides many clear examples.
In Alabama where I live, but also in Michigan, Ohio and all across our land, identity with a football team (or some other team) can easily create the “us-them” mentality. Winners will believe they are better than the losers.
I can think of no other way to interpret the claim “we’re number 1” than “we are better than you.”
Most of the time, the “us-them” of sport is harmless, but violence after sporting events is all too common-place. Eleven people were shot after a game in New Orleans on Saturday. People have been assaulted after baseball games — even children’s games can bring out the worst in people.
The “us-them” mentality of sports team can have many intolerant outcomes. For example, a friend in our church is in the landscaping business. He has lost business when people learn he graduated from and supports Auburn.
Anyone who thinks “us-them” of sport is an “American thing” does not understand the international attraction of soccer. I believe creating “us vs. them” is a problem for all humans.
The truly insidious nature of the “us-them” problem can be seen in another way. Have you ever been around someone who did not like sports and in doing so thought they were better than those who do like sports?
Please note carefully. I am not saying we should or should not like sport, I am not saying we should not root passionately for a team. I am using the example because I think it shows the obvious possibility for self-righteousness and prejudice. I hope everyone can understand the example.
I love sports. I root for my teams. I do not want to believe winning or losing has an effect on me but in my lifetime sport has at times been an “us-them” factor. I am better off realizing it than entering into denial. If your self-righteous is not sport—I believe if you are honest you will find in your life many areas in which you are prejudice. It may be politics, may be religion, may be the region in which you live, may be your education or intelligence — may be, may be, may be…. something.
We not me. To me a helpful scriptural reminder is Romans 3:23 “we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We are in this life together and I have no right to separate myself from others and create a “me-them” mentality.
The personal reminder I have developed to help me is: us versus them will be the end of us if we don’t learn to think we.
In a sense, above and beyond two teams playing football has to be the idea –WE are football fans. Beyond being black, white, brown, male or female—WE are human. Beyond being Democrats, Republicans, Independents, red states blue states, northerners, southerners, easterners or westerners—WE are Americans. Beyond being American or being from some any other country—WE are all God’s children.
This thinking has helped me with two of the most difficult portions of scripture:
- Mathew 5: 44-48; “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in Heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
- When the Lord’s Prayer calls for us to forgive those who have sinned against us.
Maybe you have an easy time with these—I do not.
When I thought about the concept that in all things it is not “us versus them “but we, I gained insight into what Jesus was saying when he said God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good.
To think of my enemies as we is not easy for me. I may have to defend myself against dangerous enemies. Some enemies are genuine evil. History has built deep divides. To see beyond the divides is not easy. But that is what I am called to do. My need is not as strong or as difficult as to ask the Bloods, the Crips, The Latin Kings and the Mafia to see each other as we. My trials are more on the level of asking Auburn and Alabama fans to think we are football fans.
Great insight. One of my friends wrote me a very thoughtful note after my earlier blog on expanding bigotry. What he wrote clearly stated what I am trying to develop in the present blog. In his own words:
“I’ve become more aware of my own prejudices, biases and bigotry. My response has been to force a more objective and rational framing of others. I do this by making the assertion that God loves everyone at least as much as he loves me. God values every part of his creation. Therefore, who am I to judge, dismiss or discount another person or group?
This exercise, while reactive and primitive, has been helpful in curbing my thoughts and words which have the potential to spread or perpetuate poison.
As I sit here this morning watching the congressional hearings, I see a partisan politician who I think is a waste of oxygen. I have to work very hard to delineate his behavior from the person. That delineation between the character or the soul of another individual and their behavior is a constant challenge.
Several years ago, I interviewed a young executive from a large energy company. Everyone told me this guy is going to be the next CEO. The interviews I conducted made me very eager to meet this man and to discover the qualities and attributes others saw in him.
Our meeting did not disappoint: he was genuine, fully present and insightful. He articulated a compelling vision of the future and optimism about people and issues.
Before we concluded, I asked if he would share the secret(s) of his success. He told me the best advice he got was to Think and then Think. I asked him to explain. His response was about making sure he did his best to remove every biased, prejudicial or bigoted thought he might have and to ensure that his objective reframing was reflected in his verbal and non-verbal communication.”
Well stated!! Good advice for all. Thanks!
The wise sage, Winnie the Pooh, went one further—Think, Think, Think!
We are in this world together. Let us recognize and overcome our bigotries, rather than deny them. I doing so may we learn to forgive and love one another—even our enemies!