Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can't We All Just Get Along?

This post is not quite what I intended. It rambles a little and goes in a few different directions. It is in part a window into how my mind works at times and a testament to how tired I am right now. I have become much busier at work and had my work schedule completely changed. Until I get accustomed to my new schedule, I don’t know when or how often I will be posting, but I will find a way that works for me. I am enjoying this too much to stop now. But anyway, the topic of the post is interfaith and intercultural understanding,

We go back once again to my trip to Washington D.C. I don’t want to go into too many details, but one thing that made the trip very interesting was the wedding itself. The groom (my relative) was Caucasian and Jewish, the bride was Korean and Catholic, so there was a mix both in ethnicity and religion. Another interesting point was that the couple had been together and serious for almost a decade before finally marrying. I found the wedding to be very enjoyable and an enlightening experience. The ceremony took place in a Catholic church, making this the first time I have ever attended a service of any kind in a Catholic church. It was officiated both by the priest and a rabbi as well. While the service was mostly based on Catholic practices, many of the Jewish wedding traditions were added and explained by the rabbi. Also, the homily offered by the priest was seemingly tempered to be accessible to the many of us there who were not Catholic. Later, as part of the reception, they had a variation on a traditional Korean Paebaek ceremony, an ancient Korean wedding ceremony where the bride is introduced to the groom’s family. It ended up being rather amusing, since the bride was Korean and the groom’s family was not. Most of our family weren’t really sure how this worked, but the bride’s family was very good-natured (also I think many of them were not fully familiar with this old custom).

The point of this story is that the cultural mix actually made for a very memorable and enjoyable wedding and everyone had a fantastic time. It made me wonder why they waited so long. While I do not know that much about the real reason, I assume they were worried about the reaction to a mixed marriage from either or both sides of the family. Turns out there was nothing to worry about (or did the extra time give some people time to accept the union a little more?) And in a more general sense, why do we not make more effort to understand and interact with people of other cultures, faiths, or other differences? I understand that most people are more comfortable initially interacting with people of a similar background to their own, but with only a little effort, interactions with different people can be just as comfortable and better for society as a whole.

In the case of religion, many people have very deep affiliations with their faith, which often specifically discourages mixing with people of other religions, unless you are trying to convert them. This is one aspect of religion I deeply dislike. There was a time when Jewish families would disown a child who married a non-Jew or even would consider the child “dead to them”. I am certain this took place in other religious communities as well. This fear of other religions leads to ignorance of others, which generates hatred. At one time in the deep south, people commonly thought that Jews had horns. Really. This came from many religious leaders literally demonizing Jews and, since very few Jewish people lived there, many people’s only information about this group of people came from the church. If Jews are tools of the devil, they must look like the devil, horns and all. This is the direction we can go if we do not develop an understanding. While this belief is now dead (at least I would hope no one still believes this absurdity), there are many cases in modern times of fear built upon ignorance.

In the United States and, I would say Canada as well, many Caucasians have a very real fear of people of a different skin colour, especially black people. I do see how this can happen, and I must admit that I have, on occasion felt uncomfortable when around a group of black people. I know there is no reason for this and is merely due to my lack of understanding and interaction. Remember though, that saying the reaction is understandable does not mean it is acceptable. I just hope that, with a little more contact and understanding about each other, we can start to hate a little less and become more civilised people.

Which brings me to the hot button issue of the moment, the current anti-Muslim hysteria that has been raging in the US for almost a decade now. The racism and distrust certainly existed earlier, but the events of September 11, 2001 really pushed the nastiness to the fore. Even this past weekend, as we passed the 9th anniversary of the terrorist attack, the biggest news story is about some lunatic who calls himself a preacher wanting to “commemorate” the attacks by burning copies of the Qu’ran, claiming Islam is “of the devil”. One of his particular problems is supposedly the mosque planned near ground zero. I will not get into the stupidity of the protest surrounding this issue, other than to say it is a prime example of ugly attitudes that come from complete ignorance. Most of the “information” surrounding this story was supplied by Fox News and similar thinking right-wing commentators who just repeat that this is “a slap in the face” until people start believing it. I find it particularly distressing that part of the purpose of the establishment is an education center that would be open to the public. That would actually be a good thing and might have the potential to increase understanding and reduce hostility. While the Qu’ran burning did not actually take place, there were demonstrations by other hotheads on September 11.

Honestly, how hard is it to simply keep an open mind? And even if you can’t, what about the Golden Rule, to which I referred a few posts back? Treating others as we would like to be treated does not only apply to people who look and think exactly like you. If it did, it would be a rather meaningless maxim, would it not? The whole point is that, while it may not be the easiest or the most innate reaction, it is the right thing to do. Further, it will be beneficial in the long run, for when you are good and civil to others, they tend to be good and civil in return. If we take this as our starting point, then we can emerge from our comfort zones a little more, by actually learning a little something about others. Last month, I learned something of Korean customs and attended a Catholic church service. At the same time, other people attending the wedding learning something of Jewish wedding traditions. The world didn’t come to an end, and everyone had a great time. I realize I am being more critical than usual, but I think too many of us are letting intolerance take hold and everyone, even those who try to always be understanding, could use a smack upside the head every once and awhile, myself included. Despite all the good feelings at the wedding, there was still not a large amount of interaction between the two wedding parties. I realize this probably happens at weddings of same race/religion as well, since the guests will obviously prefer to spend time with their pre-existing relatives over people they likely don’t know well, if at all. Still, I wonder if the racial difference had something to do with this divide.

I fully understand that we will not end prejudice and racism by telling everyone it’s wrong and we shouldn’t do it. Caution and fear of others is ingrained and I’m sure it will never go away. As the Jewish new year begins, I know I will try a little harder to be more open to intercultural communication. For everyone else, as we remember the events of September 11, do not let the lessons of the event be forgotten. It was hatred of others that inspired the terrorists; if you respond with hatred towards Muslims this does not solve anything. Not only are you stooping to the level of the terrorists, it fuels the fire of hatred on the other side, increasing the risk of escalation.

A final note: This post was written over about two weeks. During this time I have read some thought provoking pieces on other blogs and followed the news leading up to the 9/11 commemoration. From what I remember, the original intent of this post was not the same as it is now. I could have just shelved the piece until a later date, but after reading what else has been written I felt I should publish my thoughts on the issue. After all, one of the great things about having a blog is that I can always write and publish that nice uplifting piece I originally wanted some other time, and I will still have my little piece of cyberspace waiting for it.


  1. The media in the U.S. has to take some responsibility for continuously showing racial and religious hatred stories on their networks. The preacher in Florida who wanted to burn Korans is a perfect example of this. Why should one preacher get daily news coverage for more then a week just because he wants to burn a book? The media here just likes hyping up stories to get viewership ratings so they can charge more for advertising on their network. That is the bottom line and it is sickening to me. There are millions of loving people across the U.S. that are doing good things every day, but we never hear about them. I am totally fed up with the hate and distrust that permeates our society. Why can't we embrace the differences between cultures? If everyone was the same, the world would be a mighty boring place to live. Love and hugs to all, JR

  2. JR, I think you're right. That preacher apparently has only a couple dozen followers and he suddenly becomes the lead on every network. It really is unfortunate that we hear much more about the bad part of society than about the good. Let's try to embrace the positive,

    Love and Hugs back,