Several events have hit home with me recently, causing me pause and to reflect about the true meaning and impact they have, not only on my life, but the lives of all who share this small world we all call home.
Perhaps like you, I pull from life experiences to draw perspective on current events. I thought back to my childhood upbringing. I was taught to respect the differences of others and to be tolerant of those around me, for they also had "rights," In the early 1960s, my family moved from western Pennsylvania to the deep south, in Texas.
Two situations crossed my mind.
For those of you who may not have been around back then, the nation was dealing with severe racial issues and African Americans in our society had not yet achieved true equality. I recall after school I would hang around and help the African American janitor empty waste paper cans and sweep the floors. Our neighborhood wasn't racially diverse, but I had no preconceived notions about such things. I must have been in second grade or so and no one was paying me or forcing me by way of punishment to be there. We came from very different backgrounds, but I recall enjoying his company. He was a nice man and we laughed and talked about the events of our day. Of course, I was pretty much oblivious to the racial issues, except for some cautioning by my parents. I didn't know or care about the racial events swirling around. He accepted me and I him.
About the same time I recall a school yard bully. He was about a year or two older than I, and for a period, every time he would see me, he would grab me by the shoulders and throw me to the ground. And I wasn't the only one who suffered this ritual fate. I didn't know him, nor did I ever have a run-in with him before this started, but being larger and tougher in appearance than me at the time, I had no choice but to brush myself off and try my best to steer clear of him on the playground at recess. Then one day he approached me, and as I prepared to bite the dust, he stopped, apologized and asked if we could be friends. At the time it seemed like a great alternative to not being friends.
As we palled around, I discovered we had many differences and oddly enough he was an atheist going to a Catholic school. On occasion, the kid would eat dog or cat food. Gainesburgers had recently been introduced and I recall he considered them a delicacy. Despite his encouragement, there was no way I was putting that stuff to my lips. We would talk about religious beliefs, and while we never swayed each other, it never seemed to matter to either of us. I later learned more about the difficult life and poverty his family experienced.
As we fast forward to 2011, I can't help but wonder why we can't accept the differences among us and be more tolerant of each other. As a young child, I was able to accept people for who they were with no strings attached. But more and more these days people seem to be confusing freedoms with an entitlement to control. We hear stuff like, "I'm entitled to have whatever I want and anyone who stands in the way of my choices will just have to change their ways because this is MY America and anything that I find opposed to MY Way of Life must be wrong!"
The Bill of Rights guarantees us certain freedoms, among them the right to assemble, to speak freely, to respect the establishment and practice of religion, to be secure in our homes and to not unduly deny the rights of others. But these laws designed to protect the freedoms of all are being used by a few who find some actions or activities offensive to their beliefs.
In Essex County government, some find a short prayer before the session offensive. In Tupper Lake, despite strong community support, we see environmental groups blocking needed economic development proposed by the Adirondack Club. Last year, we saw some of the same groups behind blocking the development on the Lewis Family Farm in Essex.
There are many things going on all around us that some find offensive and yet others find very acceptable and that's OK. We can and will have differences. It is those differences that make us strong and unique.
But there are big differences between offending actions and seeking to control everything you see, hear and want. You might be offended by hearing a prayer. So come to the meeting a few minutes late or close your eyes and listen to your iPod... you'll survive the experience. You might be offended that in this tiny hamlet of Tupper Lake a resort club and homes will be built, people will have jobs, storefronts will be a filled, and money will again flow through this once prominent community improving the quality of life for those who make this area their home... you'll survive if they build it, while many may not survive if it doesn't get built.
Last week I attended the Bullying Discussion hosted by MAPP. The discussion focused on bullying in our schools. We heard about local statistics, watched a video that featured a number of children around the country who have been bullied because of simple and meaningless differences. Some have even been driven to commit suicide. Like my friend in grade school or the elderly janitor who taught me much about people, I didn't have to agree with their beliefs or the things they did to accept them. Skin color, religious or political beliefs, mode of dress, color of your hair, where you choose to live or other life style choices ... there are plenty of days I shake my head at the actions of others who think and act differently than I, but, in the end, so long as they are doing no personal harm to anyone, I can respect their right to share this small world and enjoy the control, over their life choices, that I have the right to expect in my own life choices.
Dan Alexander is publisher and owner of Denton Publications. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.