Monday, January 17, 2011

Are we Approaching a 'Tipping Point'?

I'm not known as the World's Greatest optimist (but at least I'm not the WG pessimist, either), though I have recently had reason to be hopeful. And Martin Luther King Day seems the appropriate time to share these thoughts.

You're all familiar with the term, "The Tipping Point" from Malcolm Gladwell's book of the same name. In it, he explains why change happens slowly, then all at once, kind of equivalent to YouTube videos "going viral." I suppose it's the same reason why there are no earthquake movies for years, then all of a sudden there are two opening the same weekend. I hope that the few small things I've seen are, similarly, indications that we're heading toward a period of increased tolerance.

A few months ago, I attended a staged reading of a play, "Imagining Heschel" by Colin Greer, which deals with issues of faith and forgiveness. The "Heschel" of the title was a real person; Rabbi Abraham Heschel was a prominent theologian in the 1950s and 60s. He escaped from Europe at the beginning of the Holocaust but lost members of his family. His grief for them, and other victims of Nazism, anti-Semitism and hatred of all kinds, led him into social action. Not only did he 'talk the talk' but 'walked the walk' of his beliefs by marching with the Reverend Martin Luther King in Selma.

But the play focused on a different aspect of Heschel's life: His invitation to meet with the Vatican to help them repair the relationship between the church and the Jews. This was during the time of Vatican II, one of the results of which was the declaration that the Jews were not to blame for the death of Jesus Christ (the basis for anti-Semitism).

For some reason, though, this message never 'took.' Although it is the official policy of the Church, many people still blame the Jews for killing Christ. Change comes slowly. Similarly, it took till about 1960 before the Jim Crow laws emphasizing racial segregation and anti-miscegenation (jut like the Nazis, BTW) were finally off the books. Unfortunately, that attitude has not gone away either; it's almost as if it's gotten into our collective DNA.

There have been other recent example of (usually) artists trying to convey messages of peace and tolerance by painting murals, such as one that was done in the occupied territories disputed by Israel and the Palestinians. This mural showed a Priest, an Imam, a Rabbi, and a Swami. My first thought was, "How quickly will this be defaced?" But surprisingly, it was not vandalized, and I believe it remained untouched until the artist painted over it (as he had planned; each artwork is temporary). (I wish I could remember the name of the artist; if anyone knows, would you please post it?)

My final example is Mosab Hassad Yousef, the eldest son and heir apparent to Hamas leader, Sheikh Hassan Yousef. He had been raised to hate Israelis and to become a terrorist. But during his time in an Israeli prison, he saw how the Muslims treated each other, and began to wonder why it was necessary to hate. This author of the book, "Son of Hamas," later converted to Christianity, and speaks about tolerance to audiences everywhere. The sad truth, which Yousef echoed, was that changing hearts and minds only happens one person at a time.

All of these experiences took place between September or October, and November of last year, creating, in my mind, a pattern, a suggestion that the world might be ready for a change. But after yet another shooting (Tucson) last week, which might have been due to ideological differences (but most likely mental illness), I have a hard time believing even my own rhetoric; it's such an uphill battle to change deeply ingrained thoughts and 'principles.'

What keeps coming back to me is the immortal words of Rodney king: "Can't we all just get along?" A thought for Martin Luther King Day.

If you agree with this message, please spread the word. That will be doing your part in trying to reach everyone, one person at a time.

See also today's list on The Daily Beast of the 20 most tolerant states: See Is your state on it?

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