Perplexed! Trying to Reconcile Ethics and Prejudice in 2011 … personal comments by Ethics Speaker Chuck Gallagher

There are times when I find myself baffled.  My mother and step-father just left from a weekend visit and the older they get and the older I get the more I see generational differences that amaze me.  Perhaps I shouldn’t be, but as a Baby Boomer and a professional in the death-care industry, I study the attitudes of the generations – as that identifies service opportunities – and still find myself amazed by the statements of ethics on one hand and the deep seeded prejudice on the other.  How can one profess ethics and/or ethical behavior and have such anger and fear toward ones fellow-man?

Here’s an example from my step father:  For the better part of two days, Bob berates African-Americans – speaking as if they were inferior and dirt to him.  He has no use for Obama (he’s Black and hence incompetent) or anyone else of that ethnic background.  It has been so bad that many years ago my children, both much younger, ask him, “Bob, were you ever a member of the Klu-Klux Klan?”  Bob, astonishingly said, “No!  What makes you ask that?”  Duh…to my children the hatred he had for African-Americans was a dead give away.  To this day, we still doubt his answer.

But, back to the story.  Bob is insensitive to race and degrades people of a difference race than he (caucasian).  Yet, he sat at the table at dinner last night and shared that the splendid surgeon that saved his life on his second heart attack surgery was Black!  He spoke of this man in fond terms acknowledging his skill.  “If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t be here,” he stated.  After listening for a while, I calmly looked at him and asked, “Did you say your surgeon was an African-American man?”  Bob replied, “Yes!”  “Then is a man of that capability saved your life, how can you be so critical and judgmental of Black folks?”  Bob’s response…”Good question.  He is the exception not the rule!”  And with that he shifted back into deep seeded prejudice.

I must admit…trying to be respectful of and to my step-father (I admit my mother is almost as bad) while listening to that insensitive fear based opinion was almost intolerable.  So I asked a question – How do you reconcile ethics and prejudice?  Here’s the response I received…

Prejudice is an expression of insecurity.  If he were secure with himself and his life, there would be no prejudice.  Prejudice is taught and passed down.  Perhaps asking him how he came to understand that other races were inferior to him.  Typically it is taught.  Sometimes people have experiences with other races where they are hurt by them and the reaction is to become prejudice.  It is far easier for some people to look at others as deficient rather than themselves.  Prejudice allows for elevating themselves.    At a deeper level, Chuck, look to see if there is a block inside of you that needs to be cleared.  What do you connect with prejudice?  Was there a time in life that Bob felt powerless and then took it out on other races?  Racism isn’t about love.  Racism is about fear.  What is his deep fear?  Do you wonder how your mother could be with a man who is racist?  Racism is about non-acceptance.  So how does his unacceptance impact you?  Your mother?  Is there a place in you that is not accepting of someone else or some other experience?  Where is there fear in you?  What is your fear?  Everything is connected.  Seek to understand and you might find the answers.  When someone needs to see someone as inferior, they have an issue with feeling inferior.

That answer asked more than it answered, but the questions were quite profound.  So, as I pondered what I received I decided to write this blog as I believe in transparency and am open to the dialogue.

Prejudice is an expression of insecurity.  If he were secure with himself and his life, there would be no prejudice.  Prejudice is taught and passed down.  Perhaps asking him how he came to understand that other races were inferior to him.  Bob was a career Army man.  He started college in Arkansas and enrolled in the National Guard to avoid the draft at the beginning of the Korean War (conflict) only to find out that 24 days later he was being shipped out to fight!   Realizing I was not from that time, it would appear that Bob’s generation (what is now known as the “Silent Generation”) was living in a time of fear.  People were taught to crawl under desks in response to a nuclear attack (like a desk would protect you from a Hydrogen bomb – what were they thinking?).  At that time, the majority of citizens in the US were caucasian and by the time of his birth – 1929 – the Civil War had been over only 64 years earlier.  Perhaps reared in that environment we would all be different.

Sometimes people have experiences with other races where they are hurt by them and the reaction is to become prejudice.  It is far easier for some people to look at others as deficient rather than themselves.  Prejudice allows for elevating themselves.   Hum…well two things instantly come to mind.  One – Bob hates Blacks and folks of Asian descent.  Black’s like because of teaching from his parents and others and Asians because in his early twenties – we fought Asian’s in Korea.  Today we’re taught (or at least that’s what many would want) to fear and hate terrorists and we’re taught that they are radical Islamists (for the most part).  As I recall I don’t think that was Timothy McVeigh or Ted Kaczynski’s background…?  I suppose that in looking at it, it becomes easy to hate others when that is the environment that one comes to know.

At a deeper level, Chuck, look to see if there is a block inside of you that needs to be cleared.  What do you connect with prejudice?  Yea…now the hard questions (right!).  Perhaps there is a block…as I find myself being somewhat intolerant of prejudicial people.  The question just came to mind – if none of us had a vocal accent and if those who experienced us were blind – how would our experience of others be?   I cannot say that I have never had a prejudice thought…that would be a lie.  But I came to learn tolerance in prison.  My cellmate – Buck – was a young black man.  Buck is my friend and he taught me well.  He helped me see from another’s eyes without having to be locked into their beliefs.  As a result, I can understand from Bob’s perspective why he has these beliefs, but I’m mystified as to why he wishes to continue to hold onto them – knowing now what he knows.  Perhaps it’s possible that my generation is (through learning on the human consciousness level)  –  is learning more about tolerance and acceptance?

Was there a time in life that Bob felt powerless and then took it out on other races?  Racism isn’t about love.  Racism is about fear.  What is his deep fear?  Do you wonder how your mother could be with a man who is racist?  My suspicion is that the time of his birth and upbringing  and military training ingrained that well in him.  Do unto others before they do unto you.  Interesting, wonder if that is still taught in the military today?  My guess…is yes.  The “rag heads” (as I have heard them called far too often) are the bad guys and we (America) must protect our way of life.  But in reality don’t we all – the human race – all want the same thing?  (1) To be safe; (2) To be allowed to be in our culture and live; and (3) To be loved and love our family.  Israel wants that.  Palestinians want that.  Iraqi’s want that.  American’s want that.  What if we all elected to have exactly what we wanted?  If we did, there would be no need for war?  But back to the question…

What is Bob’s deep seeded fear?  It seems the preservation of his belief system and his way of life.  If people don’t believe as he – then he sees that his way of life is challenged and that creates fear.  He said more than once, “I fear for this nation.”  I responded, (probably not wise, but what the heck), “What if we looked at it as the world and dropped the border?  What if we used our intelligence to improve the life of our fellow humans world wide instead of worrying about protecting ourselves at the expense of others?”  Well…that sent him…

Do I wonder how your mother could be with a man who is racist?  No…she is too.  Perhaps not to the extreme.  But in our discussions I commented that I don’t elect to watch the news (with rare exceptions) because of the negative approach that is taken.  But to be accommodating we turned on the 10 o’clock news (FOX of course)…and the first story was a positive one…I was blow away.  Two Black churches in Charlotte, NC mobilized men on the street to make sure that folks were safe this fourth of July!  Great story and changed my perspective (maybe a little about the news).  The minister of one church spoke to the reporter and shared that they have a responsibility to set an example and teach others how to be responsible.  I’m ready to cheer and from my mothers mouth, “Wonder how much he’s stealing from the congregation?”  If she had said, “See Son, Fox isn’t negative see the value of this positive story?”  Well…I could have gotten that, but the negative assumption about the actions of the minister reinforced the deep seeded belief of bad vs value in seeing the good.

So how does his unacceptance impact you?  Your mother?  Is there a place in you that is not accepting of someone else or some other experience?  Where is there fear in you?  What is your fear?    Unacceptance impacts me, in that it makes me sad that their fear keeps them from experiencing a more expansive life and understanding the value that others can bring to them just as they can bring value to others.    My mother is challenged in accepting the joy she can share from her grandchildren, me and others as long as she hold to a belief system that is fear based.  Perhaps the greater value in this entire blog is me looking in the mirror and examining how I hold onto beliefs and fail to experience life in a new and magical way.

One thing – and if this is it, the value is there – I do not wish to be defined by the beliefs of my generation, but hold open the door to learning from the generations that follow.  I may age, but seeing the world through young new fresh eyes is a gift…and one that I firmly chose to hang on to.

QUESTIONS:

  1. Based on what you have read, what suggestions would you have for me to learn how to accept my parents as they are, yet help them open to new and bright possibilities that lie ahead?
  2. Is it possible that – that generations belief (which I judge as limited) will expire only as they expire and that trying to change or expand those ingrained beliefs is inappropriate?

YOUR COMMENTS ARE WELCOME!

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