Vail Valley Voices: How to end the cycle of bigotry
Vail, CO Colorado
Recently, I attended a Bar Mitzvah, a solemn, age-old ritual for 13 year-old Jewish boys. Traditionally, during the ceremony a young man prepares and delivers a speech about an important issue that relates to the biblical reading of the day.
The young man I observed discussed the unfortunate bullying of a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl who committed suicide after being harassed by her schoolmates.
The moral of the Bar Mitzvah presentation was that there is no place for this type of behavior in our society. And further, after thousands of years of persecution based upon religion and culture, Jews are obligated to speak out against any type of discrimination.
Bullying is a form of discrimination that may manifest itself in many forms. It might be based upon religion, color of skin, political beliefs, nationality or a plethora of other issues. These could include a person’s financial status, general appearance, weight, physical impairment, sexual preference, etc.
The big question is how does a person become a bigot and a bully? Are we born with a predisposition to discriminate against others? Or do we learn this behavior?
I vote for the latter. There is a high correlation between bigotry and what young people hear at home.
So if you are watching “The Godfather” and comment to your child that many Italians belong to criminal organizations, you probably have created a bigoted image. Stereotyping of any sort in the company of young ones could create negative perceptions about a class of people. If you walk past a homeless person with your child and say that the person should stop being so lazy and get a job, you may have initiated a discriminatory perspective.
To me, the most important aspect of bigotry is what sets it off. Why haven’t Catholics and Protestants gotten along in Northern Ireland for centuries? And why is there such a persistent divide in our country separating Caucasians and people of color?
I’m afraid the answer is partially attributable to human nature. For many, degrading others affords a false sense of superiority.
In America, this perspective is particularly disturbing because so many of the people who immigrated here, past and present, were persecuted in the lands from which they came. The examples are countless.
Since we are an amalgamation of religions and cultures that experienced discrimination, why have we perpetrated it in the New World? Sociologists have been asking this question for years.
I have a simple suggestion, which, in the long run, will yield great dividends. Parents should not stereotype others. If an individual is a bad person, don’t attribute it to his skin color or religion. An evil person is someone to avoid, not that person’s entire social group.
You don’t have to invite a homeless person to dinner, but don’t denigrate these people because they have less than you.
And one more thing. Thank you, Michael, for inspiring me to write this essay.