Our preacher of the day told us he was 12 years old before he realized that not all old people had Dutch accents.
Up till then, he’d more or less assumed that people just started to talk that way as they aged, since all the grandparent-aged people he knew had Dutch accents. Because he grew up in a community of Dutch farmers that had only established itself in North America within the past couple of generations.
The community was so homogeneous, he said, that when he finally encountered some difference it was startling, even frightening, and definitely seemed like a bad thing.
This made me wonder how some families manage to educate their children to be comfortable with differences. Our daughter, for instance, sometimes mentions that she’s comfortable with there being different points of view, that have some validity and that need to be taken into account, something some of the people she hangs out with don’t always grasp. It made me wonder whether, because she grew up with people who were “different,” and because she would no doubt qualify as “different” herself, “difference” seems familiar in a way.
Or maybe it’s just because the different are a lot less different than people might think, most of the time.
It all reminded me of an article I’d read, on the way basic aversion to difference seems to correlate with, perhaps to underlie, all kinds of specific aversions and withdrawals some people – Karen Stenner would call them “authoritarian” – show when they have to deal with new and different people and things. They don’t like it, it seems to feel threatening and unpleasant, they clam up. Expecting people who are most comfortable with uniformity to enjoy diversity is like expecting an introvert to enjoy a surprise party.
Finding common ground seems to be the pressing need.
In the class after church, perhaps coincidentally (?), we spent time talking about Richard Rohr’s meditation on nonviolence from last week – the idea that we need to learn that our sense of separation, of “otherness” from this or that or them or those is illusory. And that without a deep sense of our ultimate connection, our interdependence if you will, talk about nonviolent social transformation remains superficial and ineffective.
Real change comes from a different center.
I want Rohr to be right about this, I think.
I really want there to be a better way. I want there to be a way to pursue action in the world that doesn’t depend on chronically adopting the position of moral superiority (which is so dreadfully fragile – why else do we have a prayer of confession every week?), that doesn’t depend on being chronically outraged (not that I’m so serene), and that doesn’t depend on attacking or ridiculing people for being unbelievably wrong (not that I want to “get OK” with stuff I’m not OK with) – as if we (whoever we are) are so infallible.
There has to be a way to work on making life for people good, or better, without hating on the people we see as working at cross-purposes, as doing things that make life for people bad, or worse.
If contemplation is the price of admission to that way … that doesn’t seem like too high a price.