Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Prejudice? Choices? Acceptance?

       This weekend I saw a musical out at Near West Theater called Side Show. It was extremely well done and an amazing show.  It was also very thought provoking.  This is a spoiler alert - if you plan to see this and haven't, you may not want to read any further.  For the rest of you - the show is the story of conjoined twins who were working for a side show as "freaks" when they were discovered and brought to Vaudeville to sing.  At one point in the story, though, one of the other "freaks" at the side show admits to one of the twins that he is deeply in love with her and that it doesn't matter to him that she is connected to someone else (literally).  But this particular twin decides not to be with this man because he is a "freak" (and I still remain unsure about why the world considered him this way....it might be his ethnic heritage, ie color?  This took place in the 1930's so that is a possibility, but I was really unclear about this) and is not accepted by society, and she fears that she would never live a "normal" life with this man if she chose him.  Of course the irony of this, the tragedy of this, is a key element in the story.  But it has me thinking, hard.
       I spent time as a volunteer in mission in North Carolina right after college.  And I lived with a community that had run a shelter for homeless folk as well as battered and abused women.  One of the homeless men came to me one day in a complete drunken stupor, confessed his undying love for me, and then accused me of being prejudiced when I gently informed him that I was not interested. He was an African American man and he was accusing me of rejecting him for his skin color.  I have dated people of many different ethnicities and I was not rejecting him because of his color.  But I WAS rejecting him because 1. He was an alcoholic 2. He was homeless, and as far as I could tell, had always been and probably would always be.  3.He was completely uneducated (I think finished 7th grade?).  So despite the fact that my prejudice was not in the way he thought, none the less, his accusation that I was prejudiced stayed with me.  Is it prejudice to decide not to be with someone because of a condition such as alcoholism?  Is it prejudiced to decide not to even consider someone because they live on the street and have no education?  Well, to be really honest, these are prejudices.  They are.
       We should choose partners and friends based on real connections, and love and trust, etc.  I'm not denying that.  But to fail to even consider someone because of something like income, or education or a condition such as alcoholism - that is to fail to really see a person, and therefore those are reactions of prejudice.  If I could have put aside those prejudices would I have chosen to be with this man?  No.  We had nothing in common, our values, our world views, our life styles, our goals for life - everything was different.  But it still was prejudice to not even look at him because of some of these other issues.  I can't deny that.  And the musical brought that back for me.
       The reality is that we all judge people.  We judge them for their heritage, or their gender, or their sexual orientation or their age, or any disability they might have.  We judge people because of the way they talk, the way they walk, the way they carry themselves and their personal habits.  We judge them because of their values, their way of life, the way they dress, where they were born, their accents.  We judge them because of their friends, their income level, their social status, their education level, their politics, their religion.  Or we judge them because of their personalities, the way they deal with anger, the way they deal with stress, the way they treat us and others.  All of these are judgments.  Some we have deemed "acceptable" judgments, but I wonder if any of them really are?  We know it isn't right to judge people based on their skin color, their heritage, their gender, their sexual-orientation (well, many of us know this...some don't), or any disability they might have.  But what about age?  Most people hang around with people who are closer to their own age (what a loss for those people - I learn so much both from those younger and those older: those age differences and differences in world views are such gifts to me!) - most people seem to find that ageism acceptable.  What about someone with Asperger's?  These are people who are not as well accepted by society - we don't want to befriend those who don't "get" the social rules, but isn't that a prejudice against a "hidden" disability?  Most of those who are uneducated or economically poor were raised in households that didn't have the means to support education or a higher standard of living.  Is that their fault then?  I could go on, but I think you get the idea.  We all judge.  Those judgments are usually unfair in one way or another.  And those judgments always hurt.  From a faith perspective, we are told "do not judge lest ye be judged,"  but we are all judged and we all judge.  We all have prejudices of one kind or another.  And none of them should really be acceptable.
      The goal then is to see people, to love people, to choose people, no matter what.  To put aside judgments, to put aside prejudices, to overcome hatred - no matter what.
       I'm not suggesting we partner with everyone, to be clear.  I still think choosing for our intimate relationships people with whom we share some commonalities, especially in the way we live, is very important to their happiness as well as ours.  But I am saying that we are called again to strive for that unconditional love that God calls us to and that calls us to see deeper, to love without expectation of return, and to let go of our judgments, prejudices, and fear.