One of the things I become more regularly aware of as I get older, and, at the same time, of which I am oft-reminded when I still frequently forget, is that my social sphere is a microcosm. When most folks around you believe what you believe, and like what you like, it can be easy to start to think that either a) that’s “normal”, or b) that everyone else believes and likes the same things.
I’ve had the conversation with several people recently centering on “I don’t understand how anyone could vote Republican”. Of course, “Republican” in this case not only refers to political affiliation, but also implies a large and nebulous set of social and cultural values typically more “conservative” than my own.
Basically, I don’t really understand how people can hold those opinions and values, either, because I don’t share them, but I know they exist. And I know they’re approximately half of the folks populating our continent.
Growing up, I often pondered how it was possible for me to hold so many views that are different from those of my parents. It seemed rather more “natural” for kids to grow up believing what their parents believed, and what their parents taught them — either actively or passively.
I firmly believe my family are good people, and I love them dearly, but there are many things about which we do not agree. At times I find some of their opinions or comments relating to race, religion, sexual orientation and the like to be offensive. I also believe that, for the most part, these opinions and comments come from a place of ignorance.
So what, right? I think it makes a difference. I don’t believe my family actively hates anyone. I believe they don’t know any better, at the risk of sounding condescending, since they haven’t been exposed to a lot of the world. I believe they are products of where, how, and with whom they grew up.
I also know their views are not static. I am quite sure my Mom, in particular, is growing more liberal as she gets older. How, why, I don’t know (and don’t care). And her actions, for some years, don’t necessarily match up with what she claims to believe. (In a good way.) She may have issues with homosexuality, but she has never treated any of my gay friends any differently once she’s known they were gay, for example.
I don’t expect a sea change in my family’s beliefs and opinions at any point. It would be arrogant, since there’s no way there’d ever be a major shift in mine to their side of the social, cultural, and political spectrum. But I do believe people evolve. Experience, learn, grow.
I also believe that The People evolve. President-elect Obama illustrated it well last night, outlining all the change — embraced and weathered — in the world in the lifetime of one of his voters, 106-year-old Ann Nixon Cooper of Atlanta. Less than a century ago she wouldn’t have been able to vote for him — or anyone — due to her gender and race. Now, the idea of those kinds of rights discrimination are repellent to the majority of the population.
That Canada voted in same-sex marriage doesn’t seem terribly surprising to anyone. It fits with our liberal “live and let live” image, but at the same time, it hasn’t even been legal for half a decade here, so we don’t get to be too smug.
So yeah, it bothers me that if my daughter still lived in Texas, her (and Rose’s) fabulous Gay Wedding Cabaret and Topiary Festival would not, and could not, have taken place. It bothers me that marrying whoever you happen to love would be banned anywhere in the US.
But realistically I know that there is no separation of church and state south of the border. Never has been. God’s on the money, in the Pledge of Allegiance, and in the speeches of John McCain and Barack Obama last night. And societally, where one finds God invoked, one tends to find those “conservative values” I mentioned earlier.
I know that less than a century ago, Obama couldn’t go to the White House and I couldn’t vote. And I know that hope and enthusiasm are infectious, so when change is in the air, lots of people start wanting all the change right now. Fair enough. But it doesn’t work that way. Not when about half of the population disagrees with you, and their votes count every bit as much as yours do (thank you, democracy).
But change does come. People are interesting creatures, and as stubborn as we can be, we can also be surprising. Experience, learn, grow.
So as depressing as measures like Proposition 8 are in California, and despite the fact that I think they legalize hate and discrimination, I don’t think it’s forever. I think it’s a matter of time. That sucks, yeah, but look what hope just did. Look at what wanting change can accomplish. As the last line of my favourite book advises, “wait and hope“. (And, of course, buttress that hope by living as who and how you are, and fight to do it if and when you need to.)
Winston Churchill was being snarky and funny, but I also think he was right and exposed a core quirk and positive trait of the American people.
“Americans can always be counted on to do the right thing… after they have exhausted all other possibilities.”