Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Meanness in our Midst

There is a virus among us -- and I'm not talking about H1N1. That virus is meanness, and there is a growing sense of meanness in our midst. While we all have the right to free speech, the tenor of our speech, on both left and right, but especially on the right is increasingly intolerant and almost violent.

Joe Wilson's outburst was boorish and rude, but it is simply an expression of something more virile in our land. One of the issues that keeps popping up, and the one that elicited Joe Wilson's outburst is the presence of the immigrant in our midst.

E.J. Dionne has written a helpful response to this situation in his Washington Post column. He notes that the issue of health care for undocumented immigrants has been addressed directly in all bills -- they will not have access to health insurance through reform. Of course, the reality is that any person, whether citizen or not, whether legal or illegal, will get treated in our nations ER's. And if you think that is wrong, you may want to rethink it. As Dionne points out, even if you do not act from compassion, you out to act in self-interest, for your own health can be at stake if someone with a communicable disease isn't treated.

But I think there is something else at work, and that is fear of the other. I hear and read tirades about immigrants, legal and illegal, all the time. Part of the reaction (though not all) to the President is deeply rooted racism -- the belief that the President of the United States cannot be a black man. Therefore, there is this need to delegitimize him. He is not a citizen, we're told. Or, he's a Muslim. This latter charge is meant to put him beyond the pale, because we are a Christian nation and thus only a Christian can be President. The fact that Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim is beside the point. There is no religious test for any office -- it's in the Constitution.

But more to the point here is our own national ethos, the one enshrined in the Statue of Liberty. That statue stands as a beacon to the world, offering a place of welcome and hope. Have we forgotten the meaning of this symbol? Is it no longer relevant?

Dionne concludes:

How mean-spirited will we allow ourselves to become? How coarsened has our political culture made us? We like to see ourselves as a generous, caring and welcoming nation. Are we losing that part of our character?

And as a final thought, may we consider these words of Jesus from Matthew 25, asking what they might have to say to us at this moment in time:

The Sheep and the Goats
31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40 "The King will reply, 'Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.' (Matthew 25:31-40 TNIV)


Anonymous said...

Sorry.. I have to disagree with you on this. Have we already forgotten the words spoken about Bush? Remember Dems have been the minority for so long, its just difficult to hear criticism on their own candidate. Just my thoughts.
I blame 24 hour media.. one that loves the dirt.. that would rather repeat a million times vs any factual news. We are a country of soundbites.. thats too lazy to do any real homework. ok.. off my soapbox. As for Wilson..I wonder if it was staged.. he is from a solidly red state, no name, etc...


Anonymous said...

I don't agree with Carter's notion. The meanness stems from fear. We fear losing control and we fear the competition. Obama's success only drives home the fear, since he represents the fact that we really are all alike, and that a poor child in China, Kenya, or wherever, very likely has the potential to displace any of us if given the same opportunities. I see this every day at work. I’ve met several young scientists from my Shanghai counterparts. Many grew up peasants in the countryside. They are bright and lovable, and they are appalled by our standard of living. They (and we) realize how our privilege is solely due to forces beyond any control. We are blessed to be born in a lucky time and place. But our luck's running out.

If we are too mean, we will only appear less human. You know what happens then. Instead of being mean out of fear, a step in the right direction should be being nice out of self interest. David Mc

Anonymous said...

Of course by “standard of living” I was talking about the number of good we own and our wealth. We need to define our standard of living in different term- By considering standard of living as “quality of life” in terms of personal relationships with others, our community and our environment. The words ecology and economy come from the same root. Eco from the Greek “oikos” for “home”. Ecology is the study of our home, economy is the management of our home. Our economic model is failing in our age. We have nowhere to expand; we can’t pick up and leave. We’re fouling our nest. David Mc