Breaking the Pattern of Avoiding Differences – Lolly Lijewski

Lolly Lijewski was the scheduled speaker at semi-programmed meeting for worship on July 10, 2016.

I had another message in mind for this morning. It can be delivered another time. The events of this past week compel me to speak on some thoughts related to bias and oppression.

I do not and can not know what it is like to have the color of my skin determine how people treat me as a human being.

I do not know the fear of violence around every corner, though I do know the fear of vulnerability and have had my personal safety threatened.

I do know what it is like to have my guide dog, who is an extension of me, assaulted.

I do know, as a person with disabilities, what it is like to have people treat you differently because of those differences.

I do know what it is like to have people without disability express bias, or judge me on the basis of their own projections of how they think my life is lived out from their perspective.

I do know what it is like to experience prejudice and discrimination.

I do know what it is like to experience injustice.

I do know what it is like to feel the pain of exclusion.

I do know what it is like to have wounds reopened every time someone in my life, professionally or personally, makes a decision or takes an action that marginalizes me as a human being.

I do know what it is like to have institutional bias permeate my life and affect the choices I make, from housing to transportation to health care to employment to recreation to the option to marry if I so choose.

I do know what it is like to have the attitudes of people I encounter impact our interactions.

I do know what it is like to have the behavior of others limit my freedoms.

When I did diversity work in the 90’s, I learned many things, but the three most important are these:

First, it is near to impossible to be born in this country, or any other on this planet and not learn to judge others based on their differences. Bias of some sort is almost impossible to avoid.

Second, rather than the “Golden rule,” we should all learn to practice what some call the “Platinum rule:” treat others as they wish to be treated, not how you think they should be treated.

Third, When you are oppressed, all pain is equal. There is no hierarchy of oppressions. Race does not supersede sexual orientation, disability, class or any other marginalizing difference.

With what I say next, I do not wish to explain away bias, racism or any other kind of oppression. I do want to encourage us all to think about bias differently.

In the world of guide dogs, there are pointy eared dogs – German Shepherds – and floppy eared dogs – retrievers.

We often find the pointy eared dogs look for their own kind to play with, and the floppy eared dogs do the same.

Of course there are some who choose to play with dogs with ears that are not like their own.

This observation holds true in the animal world with other species as well. Animals who are alike look for their peers.

Our brains are wired to look for patterns, for similarities.

We think these challenges of learning to live together and appreciate our differences are uniquely human.

Perhaps, and perhaps not.

Perhaps there is something elemental about this complex problem that goes deeper than we recognize.

Perhaps there is an evolutionary component to this problem as well.

We think we should be better able than animals to rise above our differences because we are human.

We think that more training, more conversation, more advocacy, more institutional change will solve these problems, and we want these problems solved now. We want this pain to go away. All of these things are part of the solution. But maybe there is more.

I have often heard people say, “The next generation will do better than we have.”

Our generation has done better than our parents and their parents and so on.

The generation before the boomers passed and enacted the civil rights law of 1964.

Boomers along with Gen X’ers and millennials elected the first African American president.

The generations following the boomers have more interracial relationships, more mixed race children.

They have less societal predilection about race.

If the pattern continues, they will not solve racism, but they will make strides beyond those of our generation.

If we can continue to work on breaking the pattern of avoiding difference and clinging to sameness, no matter what the flavor of oppression – race, class, disability, age, sexual orientation, religion – we may be able to rewire our brains to value difference.

But, because we are human, seeking a solution that solves the problem of oppression with a slam dunk is not likely.

This is the spiritual challenge of our species.

God has given us the gifts of compassion, love, understanding, intelligence, resilience.

God has blessed us with the abilities to think, to learn, to take action, to empathize with and support each other.

With God’s grace we will learn the lessons God has in store for us and we will proceed along the path provided to us. In God’s time.