By Janet Glass, President of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County
Maybe by the time you read this I will have been able to think about something other than the results of the presidential election, its consequences and what it says about the values of many of our fellow citizens. By now you will have heard, read, viewed and discussed an endless stream of speculation as to how we got here. I have nothing much to add on that.
On a bright side, this election has made me cherish even more the connection with the Ethical Culture Society. Our members got a chance to watch the election results roll in at our own Meetinghouse and to share our thoughts at a debriefing several days later. My appreciation for those who have been participating in the “Being White and it’s Hidden Assumptions” workshops is stronger than ever. Our social action speaks volumes about our wishes to care for the planet, oppose the oppression of the vulnerable and promote peace. At Ethical, we commiserate, reflect and strengthen our resolve together.
Scapegoats: However, one of our core tenets as humanists has me especially challenged. How do we respect and connect with the humanity of those we find disrespectful of the humanity of others? How do we honor the dignity of those who scapegoat Muslims, immigrants, Latinos, etc., for the problems of globalization and the effects of fake news? Defining respect in the context of active bigots, or those willing to overlook bigotry, leaves me with a semantic headache and a war within my humanist values.
There are examples of how to do this in other religions. One Christian approach is, “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” But does this work with the scale of putting a bigot into the White House?
Love and empathy: In an example of an indigenous religion at work, this afternoon I attended a rally against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Sioux tribe is trying to peacefully protect their water from potential contamination. They are being met by the authorities who are shutting down journalists, monitoring with drones and using tear gas. One Native American woman reported that her belongings were taken from her and she was under intrusive surveillance for months. When she finally got her things back she told a witness about the police, “I’ve already forgiven them.” The organizers repeatedly chanted, “Love will win, love will win, love will win.”
So what about Ethical Culture? Bart Worden, in a statement from the American Ethical Union following the election, states, “We will encourage people to listen empathetically and work together despite our differences and disagreements.” Listen. Listen empathetically. To bigots? In my current state of heightened emotion, it seems unfathomable. But then, I remember the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who certainly knew something about bigots. Back in 1956 he said, “We have before us the glorious opportunity to inject a new dimension of love into the veins of our civilization.”
As a humanist, I must find a way to empathize with all, even with bigots. I may not yet be ready for the love stage, Dr. King, but I recognize that they are also human beings and not just a label. This is my challenge, and I’m so glad Ethical Culture is right there with me.