8 July 2007, FUUNCO
by Cheryl Marshall
One thing you may have realized about Unitarian Universalists is that we are good at discussion. Good at agreement? Not so much. But usually good at respecting the opinions of others. More than one discussion has ended with "You are entitled to your opinion, however wrong it may be!"
One such topic for discussion has been "Are we tolerant?" We also speak about its cousin, "Are we accepting?" We have even examined the perennial, "What is the difference between tolerance and acceptance?" We could dissect those questions through all the seasons, pausing only for "Do we celebrate Christmas?" and Is Easter really based on pagan sun worship?"
To fuel the first three questions, I would like to remind you of some of the -isms that are prevalent in our culture. There is RACISM. This , of course, places undue importance on the skin, hair, eyes, of the individual or group. Racism is rampant among old-fashioned southern country folk, and - well - just ABOUT everyone else. Lane Devereux reminded me that people still say, my black doctor, my Mexican friend, my Asian teacher, when that descriptor is not relevant to the conversation. Sociology texts remind us that there were, originally, three races, caucasoid, negroid and mongoloid. Today, we are all such mixtures and subgroups that the original characteristics of the races vary exponentially. Then why do we still have racism? One of my favorite old books is called The Territorial Imperative. The author proposes that we have prejudices because we are in a constant struggle to keep off the bottom rung of the social order. I extrapolate from that thinking that the more secure we are in our place in society, the more accepting we are of others who may be different. How secure are you? How is your -ism? An offshoot of racism is Ethnism, where we tend to prejudge people because of their place of national origin. One time in America, the Irish were looked down upon. My Italian family had its nightmares with prejudice. Today, people from a Middle-Eastern heritage suffer at the hands of ethno-racists. As Unitarian Universalists, it is built into our religion to accept the worth and dignity of every human being. Maybe the best you can offer is tolerance - well - it is better than racism, isn't it?
There is not a woman within the sound of my voice who cannot help us to undersatand SEXISM. The rampant inequality in pay, in opportunity, in respect is extrememly well-documented. Our little girls want to look like movie stars and pop-culture divas in order to be respected as persons of value. Who is Paris Hilton? The kids know all about her, and Britney, and even Anna Nicole. How about Helen Keller, Eleanor Rosevelt, Golda Meir? Not so interesting to young girls, but these women are truly heroes! In private conversations with your daughters, bring up the names of some people who happen to be female, and have made great progress in our civilization. My granddaughhter, Grace, can tell you about a clever person named Sally K. Ride. Her elelmentary school is named after the heroic astronaut! Your moms and grandmas have told you about how things were when women took care of the kids, the kitchen and the cleaning. During World War II, when most able-bodied men were off in Europe or the Pacific, women were grudgingly given "men's work", and astonished their society by doing a good job. When the guys came marching home, the women were supposed to go back to being "ladies" instead of "women". It happened, though, that the genie was out of the bottle, and the "little lady" was not interested in giving up the new found power. Add the development of birth control assistance, and now we wanted to be equals. What a concept! Now, fifty years later, women have made great headway. Still, it was only ten years ago that a fellow teacher - who was a wife and mother - told me that if her husband ever left her, she would have to become a bag lady, because life was so complicated, and her husband took care of everything! I am a proud UU, so I did NOT smack her upside the head! Respect - Worth - Dignity - Not always simple but sometimes necessary if you don't want to be arrested for assault! We are very proud of our church and its Welcoming Congregation status. This means that we are accepting of gays, lesbians, trans-sexuals and bisexuals. I hope that means that this haven for people whose sexual preferences are often the focus of prejudice in the range from disapproval to violence. Where do you stand on the -ism known as sexism?
Another -ism that relates to the Hollywood publicity is SIZISM. I know a little about that one, myself. There have been studies about men and women dressing in "fat suits" and going about their activities, looking for jobs, looking for dates, asking to be taken seriously. Hidden cameras have documented blatant prejudice. When the same people , with the same credentials, went back without the fat suits, they were hired, dated, and taken seriously. My own good fortune was that I was raised in a household where size was only an issue if health was involved. Education was encouraged, and thinking was required. In my home, weight was no big issue, but that is not always the case in other homes. When I grew from a short, scrawny kid to a short, chubby teenager, I got messages from outside my home. Messages that put me on a roller-coaster of losses and gains. I believe I may have - in my striving for a more fashionable size - lost the equivalent of the combined weight of the third row, and gained back the equivalent of row five! I always ended up looking - shall we say, "fluffy"?
The Nutty Professor was SUCH a loser until he took on the slim alter ego, and it doesn't matter if you remember the Jerry Lewis or the Eddie Murphy version. BTW, Eddie has a movie now, where he is victimized by a terrible woman who is - you guessed it - fat. Talk to each other about this -ism. "Fat" is an unpleasant word, but I sure love MY life, my friends, my fellow UUs. I still wish I could live in a world where there was no sizism.
It has been said that the topics that make most people uncomfortable are religion, politics, sex and money. Well, I could talk about politics, religion and sex all day long - but when the topic turns to money, I get very uncomfortable. A while ago, when I was chair of the canvass committee, this reluctance caused me some problems. Do you want to pledge? No? OK. Not my finest hours. Happily, my committee was more assertive, and the pledges came in. Could it be that I am affected by the -ism called CLASSISM? I realize that there are differences between my life and the lifestyles of the rich and famous, but I hope you believe as I do, that character is not to be equated with money. Of course life is easier for us if we have the money we need to operate our homes and our church with confidence and security, but I would not want to be judged by the size of my house or church, and the quality of my groceries! And how do you feel about homeless people? Is this a character flaw? Or do you feel that wealth is not just money? If we think we need to judge folks by the amount of money they have, maybe we need to think a little more about classism. Integrity in financial matters needs to be worth more than the amount of dollars involved.
A poor relation of classism is ELITISM. This -ism falls into a couple of slots. There are those who deny the value of the intellectual, and those who believe they are smarter than everyone else, and therefore more valuable to society. The term intellectual means the capability of the mind. How could you be sitting here this morning if you did not have capability of mind? And yet, I have heard so many people use the word as a pejorative: "He thinks he is so intellectual. He should get down to earth." If we choose to define intellectuals as "thinkers", then the UU religion is full of thinkers. It is that very quality that is not only encouraged, but required in the examination of our principles and our search for truth and meaning. We ask for the authority of reason. We ask for ethics in our way of life. Of course, there are those who choose to consider themselves a few notches above the throng because of esoteric knowledge. Is one of us better than the other because of our SAT scores? I think not. It IS worthy of congratulations, and sincere pride of accomplishment, but each week we say "Deeds are more important than creeds", so actions do the talking in our contributions to the greater good. Where do you fit in your judgement of thinkers?
Being a member of The Covenant of Crones, I have a twinge of guilt when I propose the next topic: AGISM. You see, in order to become an official Crone, you must meet certain age requirement. Crones take the name of our society from the nature-based thinking that says that women fall into three stages - Maiden, Mother and Crone. Although most of the Crones are mothers, a pregnancy among us would not be imminent, as nature has worked her magic on us. By virtue of having been there, done that and bought the T-shirt, we take some pride in our wisdom. Do we believe we have the only wisdom? Each person sitting here this morning has had a wealth of experience that brought him or her wisdom. But the fact of life is that you who are younger are more likely to be considered for jobs than your wise old elders. If any of you knows someone who has lost a job because of age discrimination, you have seen agism at work. Do you know that teachers get pay raises based on years of experience? If the school wants to adhere to a tight budget and can get two new teachers for the cost of one with years of experience, well birthdays can bring some less pleasant surprises than birthday cake! Back in the day, people were taught to respect their elders. Are you teaching that to your children? When Ian French looks at me sweetly and says, "Miss Lala, may I have a lollipop, please", I know that his parents are teaching him respect. Hunter and Harley - in that phase of life called "teen years" are unfailingly polite to me. I had better stop naming individuals, or some parents may get salty about it. (I know they would never be rude to me, though). Now, how do you feel about the young? Agism can affect them as we elders fail to give them the respect and understanding as they try to navigate the tricky event called LIFE. They can fall victims to attitudes about age as well as their elders can. Agism is a subject worth discussing.
There are lots of -isms in our culture. Perhaps you can offer a more comprehensive list. I urge you to use the quality of acceptance in dealing with those who are not like you. Who are fatter or thinner, older or younger, richer or poorer, male, female, gay, straight. Educate your children to look for qualities of independence, ethics, integrity and wisdom rather than appearance, age or acquisitions. Continue to be conscious of your reasons for liking or not liking someone. Talk amongst yourselves about -isms and their place in your lives. And be thankful that you are here, among people who think and act out of respect and love.
Shalom, Amen, Blessed Be