Click Map for Details

Flag Counter

Monday, July 29, 2013

Face to Face

When I was a kid I loved the game Monopoly (especially when I was winning). I would play with my cousins Patsy and Tommy and my brother Bobby. We would spend hours on the game. When I was winning I delighted in buying up hotels on Boardwalk and watching the agony of my competition upon landing on the property. It was really quite a heady experience. Of course this was all a game and no one was really hurt—no matter what, we had fun.

It always amazes me the warmth and kindness of the American people on a person-to-person basis. Today my friends and I attended church and without exception we were treated with the utmost kindness and even joy. After church we went to McDonald’s for breakfast and ran into people considerate beyond belief. A joyful customer standing in line greeted and conversed with us warmly. Following placing our food order at the counter, we retreated with literally our backs against the wall waiting for our serving number to be called. Even in this position people arriving at the restaurant would ask us “are you in line” to be absolutely certain that they were not butting in ahead of us. On a personal level no one can be more kind and loving than Americans. I see this every day at work. There is no question as to the religion or politics of anyone I meet and greet. It simply doesn’t matter; respect and kindness always come first.

Now take away this person-to-person intimacy and profound changes can result. For example, I can get “in the game” of maneuvering my car through street traffic. I exultantly cut someone off. It is embarrassing beyond mention if “that someone” pulls up beside me at the next light and I see looking at me a face I know from church or work. I feel caught red-handed at cruelty.

This morning there was a story in the paper about a current investment game. Apparently much “smart money” now is flowing into real estate. The side effect of this is that 2 out of every 3 homes are bought not by someone who wants to live in the home, but rather is acquired solely for investment to sell later at a significant profit. Many would-be home buyers who want and need a home are thus locked out of buying a house. Those caught up in the excitement of the investment game and the lure of easy money are safely distanced from any intimacy with those they are hurting.

This “distancing” is at the heart of many of the ills many now suffer. Today Deangelo, Alyssia, and I visited the Florida Holocaust Museum. There I asked a docent what essential lesson we should learn from the Holocaust. His answer was not to be complacent in the face of bullying; not to demonize; and to show tolerance. (Tolerance is a one word summery that he so much wanted to convey that he found me later on the second floor just to convey it). I further will amplify his response thusly: Demonization; Dehumanization; Detachment; Self-absorption. That is, we make a person or group acceptable to harm by finding them evil or less than human. This involves detachment. We find ourselves disengaged from reality such that tolerance becomes perverted to “I don’t give a damn” as cruelty is underway. Finally, we become self-absorbed and inconsiderate of others.

As dreadfully cruel as the Nazis were, it is important to remember (as Jesus frequently pointed out) we are all subject to sinfully evil thoughts at one time or another, and, though not acted out in such dramatic fashion, they can end up coloring our lives and our treatment of others.

How can meanness deriving from detachment be structurally dealt with? Certainly, a strong democracy is one way; for the injured party has a place at the table whether we like it or not. Thus, if we are greatly inured to a laissez-faire status quo, we will often complain about big government or government regulation since a democratic government means that we must hear voices and trim cruelties we had rather not.

I am optimistic that much of America’s meanness (now significantly the result of detachment) will be alleviated once detachment and self-absorption are made less possible. At the Holocaust Museum are wood carvings of children who were victims of Nazi death camps. Surrounding the head of each child is a yellow hallo. I wish that we could come to see an aura around everyone we meet or greet either directly or through imaginative visualization. We would be greatly blessed if we could see each member of the human family as holy and unique—each with a sanctuary of conscience answerable to God.

Print Page