If you are born and raised in Pittsburg, your favorite football team is not the Miami Dolphins. If you were raised in New York your favorite baseball team isn’t the Red Socks. As Mark Twain once said, “You tell me where a man get’s his corn pone from, I will tell you from where he get’s his opinion.” If you like your parents, and they are staunch Republicans—you are probably a Republican. If you don’t like your parents…you are probably a Democrat.

People don’t like to admit it but there opinions are not facts. We have all had that experience, when embroiled in a discussion/debate/argument, and despite all the facts being in favor of our point, the person with whom we are discussing will not concede. Most people’s self-worth is wrapped up in their opinion. They cannot separate their viewpoint and position on a matter from their dignity and pride.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” I can’t remember what it felt like when I broke my leg, pulled my hamstring, or stubbed my toe in the middle of the night. Sure I remember I was in great pain, but I can’t still feel that pain now. But I, like most people, can still recall nearly all the times someone has said a hurtful word, a mean spirited comment, or a racial slur directed at us and if I were to allow it, I could still feel its sting.

My posts as of late have been a little dark. In traveling the highways from California to Arizona it seemed that the culture, thoughts, and personalities changed as quickly as the landscape. It seemed that I was meeting with people that held views I didn’t think…well…existed anymore. Call me naive, but I just didn’t think I would really run into people who verbally said the things I believed only existed in movies like “Mississippi Burning”. I really thought that this country had moved on, been educated, grown up, or matured. I mean we have a black president!

I was sitting in a Mexican restaurant, and the people in the next booth were talking to the owner of the restaurant who explained that he had been given some land in Mexico, and built a house on it. The man at the table asked the owner, “Now can whites own land in Mexico?” He didn’t ask if non-Mexicans, foreign nationals, or even Americans could own land in Mexico, he asked “Can Whites?” Who thinks like that any more? And if you do think like that, culturally you have learned at least not to voice it?

I stopped in at another cafe the next day, and I got to talking to a man named Rod sitting in front of me. He spends his winters in Arizona, and his summers in Alaska. We had only said about three sentences to each other when he said, “Well, we aren’t going to have any peace until we get rid of all the Ragheads. It is the ragheads that are causing all the problems! They aren’t for peace.”

At this point I informed him that I am a “raghead”, my family is from Iran, and yet I stand before him as a man for peace. He said, “Well, then you are the man to talk to”, and I invited him over to my table. We talked a bit more, and then he said, “Well, we can’t make any changes with a Nigger for president.”

I didn’t react.

In this day and age, why would he use such an offensive word. I think he was testing me. I think he wanted to see if I would write him off, get into an argument or in someway convince him that I was not a man of peace,  or that I was a crazy liberal. In not reacting, I gave the word no power. I robbed him and his word of their intended sting. But, in my mind, I knew too that as Malcolm X said, “A man curses because he lacks the intelligence and the words to describe how he truly feels.” I know too that the steps toward organized Genocide always begin with the same regardlessness toward the group persecuted.

DEHUMANIZATION- This is usually the first step. The calling of names, parodies, and slurs give way to “less than human” status. Terms like Faggot, Spic, Nigger, Raghead, Camel Jockey, Gook, Nip, etc.

DENIAL OF JUSTICE- Unfair laws are enacted, or fair laws are not equally meted out. Examples: Every treaty ever signed with a Native American tribe and the US has been broken. Indians were unfairly forced to carry identity cards in South Africa.

ISOLATION- By placing the group outside of common areas, a growing feeling of us vs them is established and fostered. Examples: Jews put into Ghettos, Indians on reservations, Japanese in internment camps.

PERSECUTION-Finding a reason, any reason to deny a group basic human rights. Examples: Serbian/Croatian conflict, Communist and Red Scare black listing in the US, Racial Profiling in Airports.

VIOLENCE-The point at which clarity of thinking is outweighed by irrational fear which leads to anger.

MASS EXECUTIONS-The final solution to societal insanity: Genocide.

This is the cycle. This is where every racial slur eventually ends. This is the ultimate ending.

There are only three ways to convince another of your point or perhaps your wisdom. 1. Rationalization: Using reason, scientific or empirical proof, you try to convince or persuade. I tried this with Rod. He parroted the usual banter about how women were so mistreated in the Middle East.

I related to him how more woman study in the universities in Iran than in the US per capita, but just sit on opposite sides of the classroom from men. I asked him how the US was better in treating women? I offered the fact that we didn’t give women the right to vote till 1920. He replied, “Well, in Saudi Arabia women can’t drive.” I showed him census data that revealed that women are still paid only 78.2 percent of what men earn. He replied, “Well, I don’t know where you are getting your statistics from.” I said while Islamic countries have greater restrictions on dress, we in the West choose to prostitute women to sell anything, and if a picture is worth a thousand words, then for many girls and women today, advertising says, “You’re not thin enough, not pretty enough, and not big-breasted enough.” He replied, “Well what is wrong with that?” It is my opinion, but at this point I think he and I both knew that it wasn’t the status of women that he really wanted to protect.

The next way to convince another of your point is through experience, and the final way is through example. I cannot offer many people an alternate experience right now. I can’t take Rod down to work with some beautiful little boys like the one pictured above. One day spent with these sweet boys that I formerly coached would melt the most hardened of hearts I’m sure. They are magic that those boys are. I talked to this boy’s mother and asked her how she deals with the questions that ultimately come. “Mama, are we really descended from slaves?” “Was Great-Uncle Earl really lynched?” “Are white girls more pretty than black girls?”

The answer from this loving mother was as wise and sensitive and as it was astute to the needs of her children as any mother could hope to be. She said, “We simplify controversial topics so as not to force their thoughts. We remind them that everyone gets to make their own choices. The only wrong choices are those that hurt themselves or others. Then we explain the facts, and let them decide how they want to feel. We don’t talk badly about others or put down other races for how they treated slaves or minorities. Instead, we teach them to love themselves. That is the difficult thing. Black kids don’t love themselves, and often spend lots of time wishing they were white.”

I’ve encountered a lot of American, Christian, and White exceptionalism on this trip. I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard: “This is the greatest country on Earth, and their ain’t no other country like it in the world.” “America, love it or leave it.” Or, “There is only one god.” “You going to heaven or hell boy?” “Don’t you care about your salvation?” Conversely, I’ve heard, “This country is going to hell because we have an Muslim at the healm.” “Obama—Osama they are the same thing.” “He’s the antichrist, and all those Islamists are taking us straight to hell.”

I always ask, “What other countries have you been to?” “When was the last time you were out of this country?” “Have you lived in another country?” “What other religions have you studied?” Having lived in Germany, Italy, and France in the last 10 years, and in my humble opinion, there are many great things about America, but many other things for which I am ashamed. I have visited Mexico, Canada, Japan, England, Denmark, Poland, Luxembourg, Austria, Belgium, Netherlands, Switzerland, and the Czech Republic in the last 10 years, I can say we aren’t that much better than many.

But, that is just my opinion. The following video statistically breaks down countries as to their performance based upon wealth a per capita.

Yesterday, as I walked down the road, I was kind of low. I wasn’t depressed, but I was just so sad for the status of mankind. Rascism, wars, addictions, murders, rapes, robberies, abuses, and lack of care. These people I have been meeting weren’t bad, all the people out in the world doing unkind acts at their real core are good people, but it seems just misguided, scared, insecure, and alone. Yet these beautiful boys of color that I have had such pleasure to coach were going to have to meet some of these types of people. Both victims and offenders would have to have these encounters before they could learn to love ALL their fellow man it seems. I was so sad that those that I love so dearly would be hurt. I felt so powerless. I felt as if I wasn’t making a difference at all. I was just so sad at the status of humans and our lack of humanity. I was so upset it started giving me a headache.

To get my mind off of it, I decided to listen to some podcasts to distract my mind for awhile. I put on “The Moth Podcast” and was able to listen to Elif Shafak a writer from Turkey. She described how she too felt that the world was going hell, and was the art she was producing doing any good, was it really making the world a better place? In the end, she saw that change happens, and love can change us all. She described so eloquently the exact state I found myself in, that as I walked down the road, I just started balling and weeping saying thank you to the universe. The universe had shown up yet again, and in my hour of need when my spirits were down, it gave me the words of a fellow artist with which to bolster my flagging humor.

http://www.podcast-directory.co.uk/episodes/elif-shafak-writing-amidst-the-ruins-16366876.html

As if that wasn’t enough, the very next story was from comedian and writer Tom Bodett. In witty and concise humor, Tom discussed how in the most troubling part of his life, the simple words of another can have the most profound effect. In this case the words of his father changed his life, and although his father never knew it, simple words can have a profound effect long after they are uttered.

http://www.podcast-directory.co.uk/episodes/tom-bodett-inside-passage-16537989.html

Again, tears streaming down my face. I so needed this two podcasts. To this, the iconic image of “Tank Man”, the lone individual that defied a line of tanks, the Chinese government, and the brutish transgressions of crimes against humanity unchecked came to mind. One person CAN make a difference. Be that change renewed my spirits and my energy.

When I was in Marina del Rey I stopped by the water to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. As I was looking over the boats, a red-billed seagull swam up begging for a crumb or two. A bigger seagull, the mean kind that steal food and poop on you, swam up and started terrorizing the smaller and “nicer” bird.

I decided to not feed either bird because the larger one was hurting the smaller one in order to get the food.  Then, the concept of compassion for all living beings entered my mind. Was this “Terrorist” bird not worthy of compassion as much as the small one? If he was fed, would he terrorize the smaller birds? So I fed them both. I threw a piece in one direction for the large bird to chase, while he was away, I threw the smaller bird a piece. Both ate, both were at peace.

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