Friday, November 6, 2009

General John Bell

Last night while discussing my currently-in-process move to Salt Lake with a recently acquired friend, the conversation turned to pros and cons of the city compared to others nationwide. Though my overall assessment of our fair capital is one of glowing praise, I did promptly come up with the complaint that it is a bit lacking in diversity. Probably to his later regret, New Friend challenged this, questioning whether there is really much benefit to “diversity” for diversity’s sake or whether it’s mostly just rhetoric that leads to poor execution of presumably good intentions—patronizing acts of putting a person’s culture on display for others to ooh and ahh over. Unfortunately and unfairly for N.F., his casual response to my observance led to an onslaught of my own brand of rhetoric, as those who have been acquainted with me longer would have known that once given the opportunity to discuss my thoughts on diversity/racism/integration/affirmative action/ethnocentrism/white privilege/blah/blah blah/blah blah blah, I just can’t seem to shut my mouth.

I won’t go into too much detail about my ideas here (since you, dear reader, didn’t ask), but I will say that I believe so firmly that genuinely coming to know and understand people outside of your own cultural background yields overwhelming good for you as an individual and for us as a society. The means for achieving a legitimate understanding of other groups may be up for debate, but as far as I’m concerned, the results of that achievement are not. Greater interaction and understanding lead to greater compassion, greater cooperation, greater respect, and greater equality. My admittedly idealist and probably biased views lead me to feel that so much of the conflict across the neighborhood or the country or the world would be avoided if we weren’t all so insulated with our own kind—gender/race/religion/age/nationality/anything else in an EEO disclaimer—and truly were able and willing to see things through the perspective of another and recognize the value of both the similarities and the differences we have.

When the news broke of the tragedy at Ft. Hood this afternoon, I felt compelled to stick close to my computer screen and obsessively refresh google news every minute or two. I’m sure it’s obvious but I have to note that the incident hit close to home for me. I grew up on army posts; two of my friends from high school are currently stationed at Ft. Hood; it recalled memories of when my dad was among those targeted in a shooting at Ft. Bragg 14 years ago. As the updates trickled out and the body count rose, I found myself hoping desperately that the release of the shooter’s name wouldn’t do anything to worsen this already horrific event. My heart broke as the headline at the top of the page changed—Fort Hood suspect is Army Maj. Nidal M. Hasan. I want to be sure I am very clear here—I certainly don’t think there would have been anything at all good or redeeming in finding out the suspect was a John Smith. But I did immediately worry that the simple name of this clearly disturbed man would lead to more fear and distrust and hate of a religion or a race or a region of people that absolutely do not warrant such feelings. Sadly, my worries materialized not an hour later when I heard a woman refer to the shooter by an ethnic slur. I can’t help but think that if the suspect were someone of her own background, she would have expressed anger and disgust only toward him as an individual, but because she viewed this man as part of the Other, she cast judgment upon an entire group, including a vast, vast majority of complete innocents.

In a time that is already so trying and painful and distressing to go through, I hope none of us will make the situation any more difficult for ourselves or others by adding to the amount of hate and anger that is already out there. I hope this will be a time of seeking to come together with all those around us and realizing that we each individually choose whether we will be a force for good or for something else, regardless of our heritage or beliefs. Let’s not blame the actions of one man on an entire people, now or ever. Please let’s all, in whatever manner we see fit, take this as a reminder to try to be more understanding, more appreciative, more inclusive, and more unified with all the people we have the opportunity to spend this life with. We have the potential for so much good achieved—and bad avoided—if we actively seek out and embrace all the best parts of each other, whether those parts are similar to or different from our own. If there is any positive to come of the tragedy today, let it be that we decide not to perpetuate any attitudes or behaviors that might possibly be a factor in another person committing such atrocities. Instead, let’s work toward more united communities where we sincerely know and esteem each other. There is so much to learn and so much to gain from expanding our circles of understanding. Please, decide to be a part of that.