Revolution From Within



There is a great distance between myself and most of the people I grew up with or encountered across the years. This is nothing new: there always was a distance imposed by my innate hyper-introversion, even with friends. My life has been an interior one, mainly, fairly solitary even in the presence of others. None of that was completely my choice – my life and circumstances set the stage; my pursuits and predilections excluded me from a social existence: people did not – do not – often appreciate what I appreciate.

Once, this state of affairs was disturbing. Who in the same position wouldn’t agonize, wondering what was wrong with them that marked them out as different, strange, off-center? Especially when young and “not fitting in” was the kiss of death.

My friends, most of them, have lived active and extroverted lives, traveling abroad by choice and in the military. Many sights have unfolded around them; more than that, they participated in the scenes, became part of them, interacted with the world. Have you ever seen a drop of oil spread out over water, the way it swirls with peacock colors and expands as far as time allows it? In my imagination, that is the mode of most people’s existences, most people I know.

I envy that sort of broad and rich manner of being occasionally.

I wasn’t made of oil.

More like lead, a small drop of molten lead that solidified on contact with the water and dropped away into the depths, away from the sky and the light, the sights of the world; down into the darkening shadows of a bottomless ocean I witness from the point of view of the permanent “other,” the stranger, the invader, the visitor.

If the surface of the world is the world of action, of sights, sounds, places, and people, let the depths represent the interior world, the world of thought and imagination, beliefs, ideas, theories, the fantastic, the horrifying, the maddening: the place that causes one’s guts to roll in fear or heart to stir in desire.

Your eyes are likely turned outward and look around. My eyes do not function well in the light; rolled back in my skull, peering at the phantasmal static behind and beneath and beyond even the brain, my eyes look for the sense in the literally senseless.

Your world is the one that begins in activity and society. Mine is rooted in cloistered, solitary meditation – not peaceful, by any means, but solitary. My way of being isn’t so much anti-social as unsocial, a-social. My life is spent examining culture and history and society as if they were foreign, distant organisms.

Most people I know went abroad, circulated about, added to themselves. Some changed radically to the point of being unrecognizable – the processes of experience and choice took them very far indeed from where they began. I remained in one place. Sinking deeper and deeper, I simply became more and more. . . myself. For better and worse.

Why am I bothering to make the attempt to share this? Because it is necessary – to me – to put you in my place, to see the perspective from which I see things, experience life, and to get across how unlike my life has been from most people’s. I am no Manichean dualist, nor a Cartesian: the world isn’t cleanly split into two antagonistic and unrelated camps, one interior and spiritual, psychic, mental, abstract, and the other material, solid, inflexible, measurable. Hardly. For the moment, it will suffice just to say that I see “internal” and “external” as two aspects of one reality that interacts in a variety of ways. Both have their value and require one another. Most of my friends live both an interior and exterior life.

But my specific existence, my personal life, is weighted, perhaps in an unhealthy way, towards the interior. I find it difficult to shift out of that locale and emerge into an outward life. So my vision of the world is skewed because I see it from that point of view, intensely.

But my fear is if you do not spend enough time in contemplation, withdrawn from activity, your point of view will be just as skewed, but in a different way, a way caught up in the world and the world of “common sense” – which is usually just “what people say,” what “they” say about matters. And you will accept this as unchangeable Law.

And what they say is too often naive, superficial hearsay, unstained by the slightest tinge of the inky darkness and pressure of depth.

To Be Who One Is


Or be cast out!”

RUSH/Neil Peart


One of the fundamental, if not the fundamental problem of philosophy involves sorting what seems from what really and truly is – appearance from being. But that is already speaking too abstractly because the problem rears its head first and remains essential to understanding one’s own very concrete life and the lives of all humans.

The topic first appeared to me in the context of where I grew up and with whom I grew up. It was a small, sealed off rural community in the Appalachian foothills of northern Georgia, homogenous in every way.

Most of the people were of similar religious beliefs – Southern Baptist -- and these were central to their lives. Most of the people were not educated and did not value any sort of pursuit of knowledge beyond the vocational, that involved in doing a useful job. Even those who went to college or sent their children there had in mind they would do something completely practical.

Violence, abuse, and drug use were rampant, usually behind closed doors; and the community lived on the premise that even if everyone knew or suspected everyone else’s secrets, confrontation was forbidden. Gossip, most definitely – intervene, never, no matter how bad the situation.

A man’s commands – and by men I mean specifically males – were laws to be obeyed, at home or in the street. Defiance and questioning, once a ruling had been made, was an impossibility, unheard of, rewarded by retaliation.

A similar situation held with all authority figures, from those at school to the ones behind a pulpit or holding public office, those with money and property, one’s boss, one’s betters.

Blood ties and clannishness were the foundations of the community. If a choice was to be made between a friend or what one suspected was good and the needs of blood kin, the bonds of kinship won out. No matter how abusive or worthless, one’s family ties were never to be disputed or abandoned.

I could go on, but I think that suffices to paint a broad picture of the social structure of the world I found myself thrown into. My point here isn’t to analyze my own milieu so much as to provide an example of how a particular society functioned at a given historical period, the only community with which I am intimately familiar.

One must find one’s place within a society, any society. More accurately, one’s place is initially assigned – status and function are not so much chosen as imposed. In my community, place was defined by who one was related to, by proximity to money and property, by history, feuds – animosity between and among families --: in short, by situation.

It was possible over time to change one’s status somewhat, especially by gaining property, money, or a position of authority, losing these or otherwise ruining one’s reputation. But for most, status within that community, as long as one remained there, was more or less fixed at birth as long as one abided by the spoken and unspoken rules and most were inclined by training to conform, at least outwardly. Perhaps in essence outwardly.

“Fitting in,” then, consisted in minding one’s assigned location within the social structure, never making sudden moves, presuming to question that structure too loudly, if at all, avoiding stepping out of line or offering the wrong response to any given set of cues.

No one explained any of this to you as a child or even as an adult. I doubt anyone ever gave much thought to the way things were at all. It was trained into you, the way it had been trained into your parents, their parents, generation to generation for decades. An incident occurs to me by way of illustration.

A married couple, friends of my parents from church, were visiting our house. Maybe I was 5 years old. Their son, also my age, was with them and we played with my Hotwheels cars. When it was time to leave, I caught the kid loading up his pockets with my cars and told him to remove them. He wouldn’t. So I told my parents with his parents standing there. His parents had him empty his pockets and cars rained out on the floor. However, he said they were his and his parents backed him up, alleging he’d brought them with him. My father spanked me in front of them and the boy got to leave with my cars. Once they were gone, my parents explained that they knew the boy and his parents were lying – they recognized my toys. But since his parents intervened, I couldn’t be allowed to accuse them of being wrong as they were adults and I was a child. I was punished, not because I was incorrect, but because the order of things imposed it.

I got over the loss of the cars, but I never got over being demeaned. More than that, I intuited that something worse had happened: injustice, though I didn’t understand exactly what that was at age 5. And I committed the original sin in my community: I began to wonder why things were the way they were and whether they should be otherwise. Why should people and situations not be treated as they are and not as they seem?

I was beginning to do the most useless and worthless thing one could in the eyes of the majority of those people: question. The social structure and those who maintained it – the community as a whole – had no intention of changing. No: the entire point of the society and community was to protect the beliefs and assumptions underlying it. The point was utter stability and a form of safety relying on what was taken to be the natural order of things, an absolute expression of God’s Will.

As long as I lived in that community, I saw this scene with that kid and his parents replayed in my own life and the lives of others countless times. The players in the drama would be different each time, the subjects would change, but the abstract consistency of the plot was almost exactly the same. Injustice was preferable to questioning authority.

In fact, whatever authority dictated and demanded to protect the order of things was defined as “justice.” Resistance to these demands was defined as rebellion, a very dangerous thing, even to the point of being identified as “satanic.”

Over time, I, in a way similar to William Blake, came to think of things as almost completely inverted. The accepted notions of good were wrong; the accepted definitions of wrong were, in reality, good. Not entirely, but too often to be accidental.

Again, the point here is not to share sad reveries, but to illustrate a point. I assure you, I could fill a book with examples of this pattern, but there is no need here. Moving from my own biographical experiences to the broader point: whatever community or society you may happen to be in, if you reflect, you will see that it exists to defend an underlying set of beliefs and assumptions, a tradition. This tradition may be more or less reasonable, more or less thought out, more or less humane, more or less intelligible, but it is there and your conformity to those beliefs is expected. Deviation from those beliefs will be punished in whatever way your particular society has prescribed for each offence.

Covert or overt, the punishment will follow if one is caught.

Of necessity, a community such as my own produces its shadow, its children who Do Not Fit In. Excluded from normal or regular interaction because they do not agree with the way things are, are constitutionally incapable of it, ask too many questions, are creative, are introverted, do not excel at acceptable activities, these people are, by default, shoved off to one side and have no one to associate with except one another if they decide to associate with anyone at all.

Ostracism and segregation, even if partial, was seen as a form of punishment where I lived. These were people who put a great deal of value on familial and social bonds – having a place within the community made most comfortable. And to a degree, it is humanly tolerable to know one is accepted by and acceptable to others, listened to, relied on, able to have someone to rely upon.

Numbers give strength and being able to speak the words a group will support is tremendously powerful. In school, if someone decided to single out a misfit to abuse, he or she was immediately backed up by a wall of people, all ready to see violence, all ready to aid their comrade if things went badly, all helpful in destroying the morale of the victim by hurling curses and insults and laughter.

This sort of thing only becomes more subtle in everyday adult life and sometimes explodes into hateful mobs so certain of their correctness they would tear someone they disagree with to shreds if it weren’t for police protection. . . which, at times, is itself uncertain.

The outcast subculture among the youth when I was young was not a homogenous one. Doubtless things have changed over the decades, but I grew up prior to the population expansion – the high school, overall, was very small: I think my class was a bit over 100, 120 people. Misfits were lumped together – there were a relative handful of us of all ages. All had a somewhat creative streak, bored and miserable, but some were extroverted, some given to experimentation with drugs or other criminal activities. We did not all like one another equally nor did we appreciate everything about one another. Some passed in and out of the group on the periphery, slumming, fishing for girls, dealing drugs – trying to get a touch of the reputation for danger and weirdness without paying the full price of admission: genuine alienation.

The subculture, being a form of culture, had its own core of beliefs it defended, its own traditions built up over time that we inherited. In some ways, it was a less oppressive set, yet just as inflexible and, at times, unforgiving.

Being a pseudo-criminal class, the main rule was: don’t rat. We told nothing on one another and trusted no one outside the group, even if doing so now and again would have been to our benefit. We were preyed on, here and there, but we also looked after one another as best we could, each in our own way. We advised one another, we kept our eyes and ears open for danger. We mercilessly parodied our tormenters and discussed what was wrong with the town, how to get out, who we wanted to be eventually. No dream was rejected or dissuaded.

All of this meant we were bound to be tolerant of one another. You didn’t have to like another outcast, not at all. In fact, you may have found them irritating or detested them outright, for good reason. But you put up with them on some level, the level of mercy: we were one another’s last connection to humanity and human contact. Criticizing one another was forbidden. We got enough disapproval elsewhere.

No one was too damaged for us as long as they kept their mouths closed when the authorities were in question. Sloppiness wasn’t tolerated.

Humorous digging and satirizing one another – yes. Seriously disapproving: no. Even if someone ought to have done it occasionally.

We helped one another. We shared. No one went completely without. Holding out on others, that sort of selfishness was rare by my recollection.

There were no leaders and there were no followers. There were people who were older, had more experience; there were people who had some expertise in a certain area. But each of us was autonomous, made our own choices, spent our time as we pleased, listened to what we wished, ignored the rest.

This decentralized disorganization kept us from congealing into a gang. It also kept us from being effective in protecting ourselves from all outside threats or focusing our energies on many common goals. It was both good and bad, probably more good than otherwise as some of us were capable of violence if pushed hard enough.

But one thing was certain, just as certain as if we were a gang: if you broke any of these rules and basic expectations of civility, you would be ostracized. You would become an outcast from the outcasts. It was better to disassociate yourself from people you couldn’t handle and situations you disapproved of than witness things that would have offended you enough to complain or report. That or you took things directly into your own hands and spoke for yourself, in private, and took the consequences.

By way of illustration, I’ll share a story I am conflicted about to this day, 30 years later. I was 17 or 18, either about to graduate or in my first quarter of college. An outcast, one whom I had never been able to stand because of his attitude and habits, a couple of years older than me, came in to the place I was and sat down. Unbidden, he began to tell me a story, the details of which I’ll spare you – but after asking a few bewildered questions, I arrived at the conclusion that he had probably just received oral sex from an underage boy. The thing that concerned him was he thought the boy was a girl.

“You just molested a kid, you son of a bitch,” I said quietly. My guts rolled.

“So what?” he said.

I didn’t know what a psychopath was back then, but if I’ve ever known any, he was certainly among them, right towards the top.

I said his name. “If you ever tell me anything like that again or I know something like that happened, I’ll beat the living shit out of you. Get away from me.”

He shrugged and left. It was nothing to him. I wanted to vomit. I wanted to call the cops. I wanted to see if I could figure out who the kid was. Was he lying just to shock me? I didn’t know what to do given where I was.

Why didn’t I call the cops? You don’t rat. I had no evidence. I knew from past experience with friends who had been arrested that the cops and the system could be bought – people got off charges regularly if they could cough up a payment. If I ratted him out, I’d be left alone with a group of people angry at me and an unpredictable drug-dealing thug older than me, with more resources. I had no desire to spend my days looking over my shoulder. In short, I was a coward and bought into my subculture just as deeply as regular civilians bought into theirs.

But I was serious. I’d have beaten him within an inch of his life back then if I ever had any evidence, or I’d have tried to.

He’s dead now. Don’t worry; I didn’t do it. Nature gets us all, just or unjust, given time. It doesn’t erase my guilt. I just wonder how many people actually knew what he did on the side and to whom and for how long.

My responsibility in the matter to the side, the system, the society played its role, both the larger community and the subculture we belonged to. If that young teen, the victim, had a wealthy family, he could have gone to the police and something most certainly would have been done. If that kid had belonged to many families in the area, even if poor, they would have tracked the offender down and exacted vengeance.

But there is a central feature to the story as related to me by the victimizer that I left out.

The kid had a secret. He was evidently gay and turning tricks. He offered to perform the sex act for ten dollars.

He could no more go to his family than I could had I known who it was – they would have attacked him, maybe thrown him out and disowned him. The cops would have put him in juvenile. Knowing where we were and how things tended to go, that would have been the outcome, I suppose, looking back on it.

My community was much less tolerant of gay and lesbian people than they were of the strange and creative. The number of people living in the closet there was sizable and it was an open secret, one of those things known and gossiped about but not discussed. I knew several men who were gay, older, and a couple even had status and money which afforded them a level of protection. But they were largely ostracized by polite society. It was only the adult outcasts that had any contact with them, or their families. One, in particular, a man who had played a central role in the community at one time, a man with a sharp, imaginative mind, was reduced in his final years to lying in the bed all day, drunk, alone in his large, beautiful house.

Over the years, I met other gay and lesbian people, most hiding it except from the few they trusted, many hating themselves, feeling guilt because the authorities called them sodomites and abominations before God. I met one guy who lived openly, flagrantly, and learned from him that there were men in the community, married men, who visited him on the down-low, having gay sex while denying they were gay. He was under constant threat to keep his mouth shut.

One of the central ideas I formed about human beings in America, or at least in the rural South, is that everyone has a secret at the very center of their lives. Some have a cluster of them, but most people have at least one and their actions, their passions, their beliefs are built around protecting that secret. Everything reflects it, everything is colored by it, and the effort people will go to in order to hide it is unbelievable and heartbreaking. If only they could bring it out into the open they would be free to become, fully, who they are instead of what has been imposed upon them by inheritance, others, or a bad choice made as a youth.

People keep their secret because society demands that they do so. Stepping out of line is forbidden, imperfection in conformity is intolerable. A woman must be a certain way or else she is damaged, a whore, a dyke, frigid, hysterical, evil; a man must be a certain way of else he is weak, queer, effeminate, a pussy, a freak, crazy, evil. No matter what else the person accomplishes, no matter what they’ve overcome, learned, figured out, contributed to the lives of others, if their secret comes to the surface, they fear most people will discount it all and only see the perceived or real horror they hide.

And too often they are right.

It’s not only homosexuality that people fear as disturbing the imaginary “natural order of things.” I worked in the field of mental health in one capacity or another for almost 13 years, 10 years full-time; all of it in direct contact with people. Between my civilian life and professional life, the number of women I met molested by their fathers and relatives and raped by strangers was literally unbelievable. The statistics say that 1 in 4 women have been sexually abused, but in certain places and populations I am convinced that the real number, the unreported number, is much, much higher. And most of it goes unreported because it is a person’s secret, the thing for which they fear reprisal should they bring it out into the open. As years have often happened between the events and the present, all that is left, it seems to many, is the loss of reputation.

Some are even protecting the reputation of their fathers and mothers or other rapists. The code requires that blood ties be honored or respect paid to certain power relationships. The chaos that might ensue within a family should someone stand up and speak the truth is intolerable for them – and their abusers always count on that and other threats.

It isn’t just the poor and uneducated. I’ve known women molested by well-off, well-respected “men,” pillars of the community, lauded members of their churches. Appearance and reality often have no relation to one another whatsoever where the system exists to protect authority and silence the abused. The “natural order,” that so-called expression of God’s Will must be defended no matter who suffers.

There are other secrets.

People with mental illnesses often live with their stories hidden, just as much as if they were gay or lesbian. Severe mental illness often precludes this option – the symptoms are too pronounced, medication doesn’t mask it well. But with some, especially those with moderate cases, medication and social skills can offset the appearance of the illness to outsiders. It can be masked to some degree, suppressed; and when the symptoms are intense, one might hide or isolate, go as silent as possible to prevent discovery.

But why? Mental illness is a genetic disorder, just like diabetes or being born with poor eyesight. The latter things no longer arouse fear, anger, and suspicion, at least in America – people discuss them openly. There are no reprisals for it. I’ve never heard of anyone losing friends or being treated as a second class citizen because they are nearsighted.

But mental illness: that is horrifying for most people, mysterious, surrounded by as much mythology and misinformation as homosexuality and with at least as much stigma as being sexually abused. Maybe more.

Where I was from, people had an easier time accepting alcoholics than someone with a mood disorder or schizophrenia, even if the alcoholic was irresponsible and made trouble while the person suffering from the mental illness held down a job, raised a family, and worked twice as hard as most to pull it off.

The word “crazy” comes to most of our lips pretty easily. When confronted with any human activity or choice that appears senseless, we immediately call the perpetrator “crazy,” “insane,” a “lunatic.” Over the years, and especially recently, we have seen a wave of mass shootings and terroristic acts and some of the people that brought us this violence had mental illnesses or developmental disabilities such as a form of autism. Instantly, the danger to the community is no longer hateful people, angry people – notably, all were male, which ought to have given pause in jumping to conclusions; no, now the danger is “crazy” people. As if some people with a mental illness or autism might not also have an issue with anger and hate, like anyone else, an issue that may be exacerbated by perceptual difficulties accompanying some illnesses, but is not caused by the disorder.

In fact, most violence towards others, gun or otherwise, isn’t committed by those with a mental illness. It is caused by so-called normal people who lose their self-control or surrender themselves to greed or the desire for vengeance.

People with a mental illness almost entirely pose a threat, if they ever pose a threat, to only one person: themselves. They are prone to suicide born of despair or delusion. Mental illness, I understand, can be one hell of a burden, internally and externally. It is incurable.

In people with moderate to severe levels of illness, some degree of symptom, at least inside themselves, is always present, a constant struggle. It is difficult to be sure of oneself, one’s judgment, one’s beliefs. Depressions cut one off from the desire to do anything and be with anyone, manias throw one outside oneself and inspire actions and beliefs that are extreme and flamboyant. Schizophrenic states cause hallucinations -- visual, auditory, tactile, olfactory – every bit as real as anyone’s reality, and false beliefs that are every bit as real as anyone’s.

It can be torment, a quiet, lonely torment. A daily regimen of expensive medications keeps one sane or close enough to it to pass most days – and with every fistful of pills the thought that should the insurance company fail to pay or if one loses insurance one will wind up under a bridge or dead is always in the back of one’s mind.

Added to this is the stigma imposed by societal beliefs. The mentally ill are permanent freaks in the freak kingdom; there is no option to go straight and sell out. The person with one of these illnesses isn’t seen as a human being, she is seen as an illness, a disorder, a walking incarnation of abnormalities to be avoided at all costs or politely looked down upon.

I have an acquaintance from back home who has bipolar disorder, has had and borne it since about age 19. He is intelligent, well-educated, talented in several areas and accomplished much in his years, much more than he ought to have been able to given the difficulties. He learned a long time ago to keep his mouth shut about the sickness: it is unsafe to speak, share, offer insights because, past the point that most people discover his illness, he is completely discounted. It is as if everything he offers or does is suddenly a symptom, a sign of weakness of mind and a degenerate soul.

He’s lost friends because they found out. He was once accepted into a circle of people who discussed intellectual issues and ideas, people of cultured backgrounds; they met on weekends to discuss an agreed upon topic for several months. He became depressed at one point for about a month – it was all he could do to get out of bed and go to work, so he missed some meetings of the group. Wanting to be included and honest, he wrote the leader of the circle, a man with whom he’d become friends, a man he was sure he could trust as he was educated, and explained what was going on, admitted his illness. The man wrote a polite e-mail back . . . and never spoke to him again, never invited him to anything else. The rest of the people in the group similarly cut him out of their lives.

This or something similar has happened to him almost each time he revealed his secret. Now, he lives in silence; each time he hears people saying ridiculous things about “the crazy people,” he wants to speak up, educate or at the very least contradict them, stand up to them. Let them know exactly how ignorant, ill-informed, and outright prejudiced they are about things they do not comprehend. Show them what a real “crazy person” looks like: say, “Here I am.”

But he can’t or won’t. The price is too high, the pay-off too meager. I don’t blame him one bit, having witnessed what he goes through on a regular basis for many years. So I chose to speak for him; providing no identifying information, he doesn’t mind.

Having worked in mental health with many people, I could tell you many stories, much worse stories. But I told you that one to illustrate how pervasive beliefs are and how deeply prejudices run in our culture. But the culture does not see these as prejudices, it sees them as cherished beliefs that make sense of the world. God did not intend that people’s thoughts and acts become involuntarily incomprehensible. Something is morally wrong with the mentally ill person.

Where I am from, there are still influential churches that teach mental illness is, literally, demonic possession. As one possessed, one is the witting or unwitting house of evil – and that is a very old belief in the Western world. Though science may have supplanted that explanation with talk of chemical imbalances and genetic mutations, the fact is most people still, for all intents and purposes, treat the afflicted “as if” they were possessed by alien, unclean spirits. Better to shun them or keep a cautious eye on them.

That or it is the product of weakness and laziness. One isn’t fighting the inclinations hard enough. In which case it is obvious the sick person is sick by choice – a greater moral failing than possession. Or perhaps they are inviting the wickedness in.

Either way, old habits of judgment die hard, especially if they keep order. Turning one’s back on those whom one chooses to not understand or whom one misunderstands is the American way.

Holding out threats of criminalization is a close second: Wayne LaPierre of the NRA is calling for national registration of all mentally ill persons and I hear the call echoed all over social media.

We can’t get the basic human rights of gay and lesbian people recognized, a legal punishment simply for being born grounded in the strange notion that what is uncommon must, by definition, be “unnatural” and what is “unnatural” is contrary to the Will of God.

Conversely, what is common is seen as right, or more correct in the eyes of God and “nature” than the less common. As if what human beings are, inasmuch as we are talking about our humanity and not our animality and biology, isn’t completely unnatural, completely cultural and creative.

We can’t have a society in which especially women and children are protected against predation by authority figures because authority is seen as established by some sort of Divine Right, never to be questioned or doubted.

The father is “head of the household” and his children and wife are, for all intents and purposes, his property, especially in the South. One disposes of property as one desires and no one questions it. Priests are “shepherds,” representatives of Christ; their commands and actions are not to be easily ignored, especially by a confused child. Many Evangelical Fundamentalist preachers claim they receive direct messages from God Himself – what person who believed this could easily question the advances of a man of such awesome power?

Politicians and the wealthy have pull and protection; people do not doubt their word or reputations. Judges and the police have the power of law behind them. Professors and teachers command respect from their students and can be persuasive.

Women are blamed for being attacked. “Some women rape easy,” one politician recently said. Women are accused of dressing provocatively, being flirtatious – “asking for it.” I’ve heard interviews with child molesters who said much the same thing. Women and children, seemingly, are to blame for the perversity and violence of their tormenters.

God did not establish the order of society, any society, not the underlying beliefs of any society: we did. We choose to recognize certain things and people as valuable and others as less so or not at all. We choose to review the inherited beliefs of our cultures, to examine these beliefs for reasonability and humanity, or we choose to pretend those beliefs are written in stone, perfect, passed down from Heaven at some point in time immemorial, never to be altered, no matter who suffers.

We choose to accept, or at least tolerate those different from us, make some effort to see their humanness, to identify them with us, or we seek to make the other a perpetual stranger in our midst, a stranger outside kinship, friendship, due nothing from us but contempt and fear: a stranger liable to be preyed upon.

People must be allowed to open the beautiful gifts that each of them is, to share that gift. We owe healing to the sick, justice to the oppressed, peace to the troubled. We owe openness to what we do not understand, dialogue between the different. All of us owe one another some measure of mercy.

What else are we here for?

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