column: Individual attitudes within nation illustrate prejudice as well as balance
Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for AnnArbor.com about aging, politics and other issues.
Unfortunately, those old reliable “eternal truths” just don’t cut it anymore. It used to be that words of wisdom from the old-timers carried the day. After all, they’ve been around for so many years they must have learned a lot — they must know.
Then it became fairly evident that those old-timers, now long past their prime, no longer understand the real world and their judgment can no longer be trusted. But now I’m just not so sure anymore, increasingly bedeviled by doubt ever since I joined that class of characters who don’t even realize they are a class of characters.
I was thinking of that recently when I stopped the car for the traffic light at a busy intersection and saw a picket on each of the four corners, each in their late-20s to early-30s. They were each carrying crudely-made signs asking that we blow our horn if we agreed that marriage should be restricted to a man and woman — with ancillary references to God and the Bible.
I also know that such opinions are fairly commonplace and that the right to express them is an essential part of our democratic society. What I did not know (or fully realize) was my own rigidity and limited temper-control. The light changed and I was able to drive closer to the picket standing at my corner, enabling me to discuss the issue more completely.
Opening the window on the passenger side, I leaned across and yelled at the top of my voice, “Whatsa matter with you? Why do you hate so much? What right have you to...” at which point the traffic forced me on. I don’t know what more I might have added to my thoughtful discourse had I more time, but the picket was at no such loss. An attractive young woman, she smiled broadly and yelled back, “I don’t hate. I love you.”
And I guess that is a pretty fair definition of our nation and our society, of who we really are. We may well be wise or foolish, rigid or flexible, limited or expansive, but, on balance, we are a nation of individuals with individual attitudes and prejudices and passions. And as long as we have the interest and inclination to express ourselves with some degree of rationality and control, we and our country are the better for it.
I think of that girl and her colleagues with their signs preaching bias and hatred, and I am increasingly angry and frustrated by my inability to turn her prejudice into love and understanding — and then I step back to re-examine my own intolerance. It’s different, I know, because I am right and reasonable and fair (although perhaps occasionally short on objectivity), but the larger lesson is in comparison with such disputes in much of the larger world. Differences of opinion will always work to rip us apart, but only here does the abused perpetrator end the dispute with a smile and the comment, “I love you.”
Which reminds me of a similar incident that took place a few years earlier. After dropping my wife off at Hiller's, a Jewish-owned supermarket in the Arborland Shopping Center, I waited in the car, watching several people marching with signs of anti-Israel hatred — not incidentally tainted with broad hints of anti-Semitism. Finally, enough is enough.
I left the car and approached the leader of the group, yelling my own epithets at him, gaining in volume and passion all the while, until we seemed on the edge of violence. Still fuming, but drained of rationality, I went back to my car, at which point he came running after me, both arms raised as if in preparation for an assault, then with a smile on his face, shouted “Shalom” (“Peace”).
It’s irrational, I know. Certainly nothing to smile about, even this long after the incidents. But given the irrational hatred of the messages and presumably of the messengers, that nothing more damaging than noise and hurt feelings came out of these encounters, is a tribute — but whether to our system or to our people I do not know. Watching and reading of the violent reactions to disputes of similar magnitude in societies in most of the world, even the bias evident in these incidents is a bit reassuring.
I also realize this is a grossly naive reaction to a very minor pair of incidents, but this is the same guy who smiles in appreciation when he sees cars stopping to let others break into his line of traffic, or to allow a bicyclist or pedestrian to cross when they have not the right of way, or people leaving buildings holding the door for others to enter. It’s foolish to try to equate the two, but I guess we have to run with what we’ve got — and on balance, what we’ve got is not so bad.
Robert Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.