November 30, 2009
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I am not sure of my exact age. The experience took place in the very late sixties. Early elementary school for me, for my parents those years were referred to as grammar school. My school training was experienced in suburban Washington, D.C. To be more specific, Alexandria, Virginia was my home, and much of who I am today is a direct result, of not only the well-informed intelligence and studies of my Mom and Dad, of which they worked hard at passing on to me, but of the area in which I lived. Again, this was a deliberate choice made by my parents. (I wish that I had a half of their informed, perceptive thoughts. To comprehend what they understand would be amazing. Yes I am a very proud daughter.)
Living in the D.C. area, national news was local news. During the late sixties, we were inundated with the “new” thinking of the times, the radical anti-establishment mentality that exposed itself. At least that is my recollection and what I took away from the television and talk. All people in this country were exposed, but I think in the nation’s capitol, as national political news is an obsession, the local news leans into the national political realm more so than in other areas in this country. I won’t get into whether that is a positive or negative passion of locals; that is another matter for discussion. The politics though, of this time, affected me immensely as it did the rest of a generation, and at a young age.
During this period of “new” thinking, of acceptance and tolerance being somewhat novel ideas, I was a young girl in school. One year in particular, several of the students in my class, myself included, were seated on the window side of the classroom. I can still feel the warmth of the sun on my shoulders, see the striped shadows of the blinds on my paper and the desktop. It wasn’t a chosen seat for me nor for my classmates. Though it was not for a reason of much importance, we were put in those chairs because we were not like the others. Something as trivial as being left-handed sent us to the other side of the room; we were told to try to switch to our right hands if possible. Again, not a social issue of any significance, but our natural instinct was considered incorrect, a mistake. We had to move as the others.
The experience stayed with me, in one form as a message to conform and as another to be true to myself. My discomfort led me to realize that something just wasn’t fair with this exclusion. One’s disdain for another’s eccentricities is a character trait that I cannot tolerate. I said it and I made two mistakes. First of all, the word ‘eccentricity’ often is read as an anomaly, a difference, that is negative. It needed explanation. It is, in my belief, a trait that should be coveted and should be thought of as an asset. Secondly, I broke my rule. “…cannot tolerate.” If I cannot be tolerant and accepting of all others’ views, I am being the very type of person I wish not to be.
A certain amount of conformity, to which one should adhere, is necessary to survive, to live peacefully among each other. At the same moment, it has become a sad requirement due to the fact that it has moved beyond a simple survival mechanism to the establisnment of guidelines that in some respects are trivial and not accepting of those that choose not to follow those specific guidelines.
Without conscious thought, we mimic to survive. Witness the fight or flight response. Biologically, we act in one of those two ways to threat. Notice, if one runs to escape danger, another then another will follow without much question. Run, then inquire. As apes follow one another when danger is perceived, we follow too. In this regard we are as other species. We share a common instinct to conform to survive. As humans, though, we have the ability to choose our specific path. We have the ability to approach problems in a way that suits our own being. Responding, acting and reacting, can be incongruous with others’ approaches, yet still leave our societies harmonious.
As an example of the pressure to conform, we can find watching the behavior of teens enlightening. Worst case scenario – gang mentality. Survival instinct is an easily found trait among gang members. It is, though, a societal imposed behavior pattern that often finds its members dead or injured for not conforming to gang rules. Most of us move through this life with pretense, rules pinned to our shirts that we have been trained to follow lest we be considered too unconventional, divergent and upsetting to the balance that make others feel at ease. This pressure to acquiesce to the perceived guidelines of any group, religious, social and beyond, leaves many feeling as though they are working and living in a way unfaithful to their own souls. This can be a difficult way in which to live. Attempts at being true to their hearts, and living their truths, can be met with much disdain and ignorance. To afford civility and a modicum of decorum within our societies, we do need to “play the game” to some extent. We follow rules, laws. Some are meant for our own protection and there are those that are meant to safeguard and protect others. This could very well lead to a political discussion, but I would be digressing. Suffice to say we do have the option, in these United States, of taking various approaches to solving our vast problems. Our daily lives should reflect this option as well. We should respect the choices of others even as they many not be in accord with our own. It is individuals who behave as such, those that cross boundaries and think outside the box, act outside the box, it is those that live intriguing lives and are ultimately full-filled. As well, these men and women bring us thought-provoking ideas, innovative thinking and better societies.
The subject of religion though is a much more complicated animal. Why do those that choose to live by one particular religion become pitied or regarded as not fully informed by those that have chosen a different spiritual path? As others question faith, religious beliefs, as others question which, if any path, is correct, I have and do as well. There are many ways of looking at this life on earth and what may follow it. I am still investigating. As a pastor once said to me of himself, “I am a work in progress.” I hope that I have reached a level of tolerance, acceptance and compassion that has a direct and positive effect on those I raise, maybe upon even those individuals I have yet to actually meet.
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism teach many of the same ideas. (I am not referring to fundamentalists or extremists of any faith.) To believe that one method of spirituality is more relevant than another is something that I cannot wrap my arms around. To believe that one religion negates the value of another is not a belief to which I can subscribe. My God, the creator, the divine intelligence that formed this universe and all peoples would not cast off compassionate people of any belief system or religious conviction. A most revealing example as to what acceptance of non-conformist ideas can bring to all, is the melting pot of our country, where some people make peace with those of other spiritual paths. Humankind’s varied beliefs are different paths up the same mountain is a common line we hear. That all agree with that statement is not something that I will ever see occur. I doubt seriously that such will occur for generations.
We need to start small. Accept others individuality, differences, and choices in life. We need to allow others to live life the way they choose to do so without being condemned for doing such.
Again, I am not an expert on any subject that I have touched on in this piece. I do believe though in the similarities of two of our teachers. Jesus and Buddha, I know more of these two than those of the Hindu faith, Hawaiian gods, and the many other leaders of other spiritual paths. They each professed a love for all, a compassion for all. The following quotes I believe speak to this.
Jesus “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have you. No one has a greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” John 15.12-13
Buddha “Just as a mother would protect her only child at the risk of her own life, even so, cultivate a boundless heart towards all beings. Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world. Sutta Nipata 149-150