(50PlusPrime) LATHRUP VILLAGE, MICHIGAN --
In the ‘good ‘ol days’ it was easy to tell the ‘good guys’ from the ‘bad guys’ because the ‘good guys’ always wore white hats while the ‘bad guys’ always wore black ones.
Sounds rather simplistic these days, but there was a time when things at least appeared simple on the surface (and having recently turned 60, I am old enough to remember those supposed ‘good ‘ol days’!).
Many of us grew up believing that as long as we didn’t associate with ‘those people’ then things would work out to be at least ‘OK’ and probably even ‘good’ for us. Our criteria for who was considered ‘us’ and who was ‘them’ usually has been relatively simply and easily defined. For example - which side of the tracks you grew up on, what part of town you lived in, what part of the country you lived in (or your relatives came from), how many stripes your tie had on it, and ultimately which country you came from, or currently lived in… The ease with which we quickly concluded who were ‘good’ or ‘bad’ people was readily drawn and expected, until recently I would propose. I can even remember when a ‘handshake’ was as good as a contract (for we were, of course, working with ‘good people’)!?!
Very briefly, as immigrants our families had prescribed expectations of where to live, until we became ‘integrated’ and America supposedly then became ‘homogeneous’. Those ethnic neighborhoods became tourist attractions and places for unique food experiences (and not much more was expected back then). I even changed my name to not only be simpler for people to pronounce, but also to feel more ‘mainstream’. Then came the ‘salad bowl’ concept of America being made up of various parts (like the varied and unique ingredients of a salad), which while being different in particular pieces, were expected to fit together well to form a good tasting salad or well-running ‘whole’ America. Now we’ve come into another apparent period of change (unrest?) where various parts/segments/ethnic communities are actively working at maintaining their unique individual character, with LOTS of mixed feelings and reviews in response… (and I’m not proposing to ‘take a stand’ to suggest one style/format of living in America is any ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than another, merely they are ‘different’, and America seems to be struggling to try and decide what to do with this new diversity of thinking, let alone living… and living together as a country).
Personally, while working in our small town public library, during my teens, it was my responsibility to straighten the reference books, including those titled, “Who’s Who In America”. I recall, on various occasions, thinking how exciting it would be IF, someday I, too, could be… and then I would stop myself from even dreaming such a ‘goal’ of inclusion. I came from a small suburban town with many small auto part factories, and from ‘ordinary parents’. Who was I to even propose such an extreme appearing idea!?! Over the years I even forgot about this quick flight of fantasy. It felt very good, several years ago, to send in my biographical summary for publication in the Millennium Edition of that same “Who’s Who In America”!!! Ironically, this was after having been included in “Who’s Who In The Midwest” (well, it was a part of America, I thought at the time), and then for inclusion in “Who’s Who In The World”. That one taught me just how often I shortchange myself and cut off my own dreams before they have even fully formed. Others have had a higher appreciation for me than I have for myself. Much creativity has been lost, over the years as a result of this shortchanging!?!
One form of ‘friction’ (from the concept of ‘we’ vs. ‘they’) currently being experienced in America is the concept of ‘bullying’. This is especially apparent in our public schools and there has been considerable discussion of creating state laws which would forbid such behavior towards another schoolmate. While it is most commonly observed and discussed in terms of youth taunting other students they know or believe to be ‘Gay’ (personal homosexual orientation and possibly lifestyle versus Straight heterosexual orientation and lifestyle) there is still discussion whether this should be banned or somehow continue to be acceptable behavior??? The comment, “Well, boys will be boys” is still sometimes offered as an explanation (excuse?) and the receivers of these attacks are often expected to ‘become men’ and learn how to fight and defend themselves... We’ve gone to considerable lengths to ban ‘discrimination’ based upon a host of personal factors (age, gender, religion, race, ethnic origin, physical disabilities, etc.) but there are still so called ‘reasons’ for continued hurting of others which are not protected by law (perceived to be Gay, ‘blond’, overweight, wrong clothes, etc.), AND even those supposedly protected by the law are still getting LOTS of discriminatory comments/insults/assaults… Perhaps, it might be time to create a set of laws that doesn’t ‘empower’ people against others based upon ‘loopholes’ (IF you’re not listed as a protected individual then you are still fair game)??? I suspect this would be a very different way of thinking for many.
I would like to briefly suggest the potentially HUGE idea of people feeling ‘safe’ from any form of ‘personal attack’ (either physical, social and/or emotional)!?! In working with people I talk about the concept of ‘a person, in a place, with a process’. What IF we would only discuss/challenge the ‘place’ and ‘processes’ of individuals, with the continued foundation belief that “all people are created equal” – end of discussion!?! I believe I’ve heard that expression somewhere in the past (the Preamble to our U.S. Constitution – “All men are created equal”).
Working with my clients a few years ago I began discussing the concept of “zero tolerance” towards “domestic violence” (as proposed by domestic violence programs and shelters). While engaged in these discussions it occurred to me, “What IF this was to apply towards an individual’s self-esteem, too? WHAT IF ALL PEOPLE WERE INDEED OK AND ALWAYS EQUAL?” I had been teaching how to overcome lowered self-esteem, and had even taught the concept that we are all born with an intact sense of ok self-esteem. I suggested it was someone else who attacked and taught us to lower our own sense of ‘self’. Through therapy, my clients learned they could stop betraying themselves and re-learn that they were, are, and always have been OK – (correcting the ‘dysfunctional family’ model of ‘respect/love’ being ‘earned’). The concept that they could ‘live’ as unconditionally OK beings had not yet occurred to me until these discussions. We could, of course, increase our sense of self, IF we wanted to (but no longer needed to). The ‘lowest’ it could then go is to be ‘zero’ meaning not relevant to the situation or discussion. I believe this could work on family, community, and international levels as well!
What a different world we would live in IF all people were perceived to have equal worth. Maybe we might have slightly different worth during specific events (e.g. while being a teacher, politician or doctor, etc.), but would that even be necessary? Would that even be desirable IF ALL PEOLE WERE CONSIDERED IMPORTANT?!? Children, adults, people with disabilities, certain professional individuals, bosses, Presidents, etc. would all be considered “important” BUT/AND so would EVERY ONE else, too!!! This could even set aside the “reasons” for war, or child/spouse/sexual/physical abuse, IF we wanted to take it far enough!?! How could anyone kill or hurt someone who was considered important and valued?!? How healthy is one’s ‘behavior’ is, of course, another question and open for polite and respectful discussion.
We stopped wearing easily appearing markers of our social acceptance for some time now (and often our youth go to great lengths to proudly display themselves in just the opposite manner – LOL!). Perhaps, it is time for some ‘social discourse’ on what a healthier and happier American society might conceptually look like with these new ideas in mind, then we could begin to lay out some goals and objectives on how to begin living more exciting and satisfying lives (saving the energy so many currently put into defending themselves and their sense of ‘self’ from the ravages of our dysfunctional American ‘family’)!?!
I hope you’ll find the concepts and ideas I’ve shared to be as exciting as I have, and they will encourage and motivate you (and your family, friends and communities) to see where such thoughts might lead.
Dale Ross, MSW, is a therapist with 23 years in his own private practice in Michigan. Also, he sees clients at St. John Hospital's Eastwood Clinics in Royal Oak and Livonia, Michigan. His e-mail address: RealitiesUnlimited@Comcast.net. His office telephone: (248) 544-7041. He enjoys hearing comments and feedback.