As I See It
It seems that nearly every day, for as long as I can remember, the newspapers are filled with reports of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred against one group or another. The basis for this kind of subhuman behavior can be as broad as ethnic, racial, and (by far the most common) religious difference. Or they can be as narrow as the way someone drives their car, or a person’s sexual preference.
In this unhealthy atmosphere, it was like a breath of fresh air to read in the Glenwood Springs Post Independent about an event called “Big Idea Day,” held at Glenwood Springs High School on Feb. 19. The purpose of this event, organized by the student Climate Committee and put on by 60 students, parents, and volunteers, was to promote a positive attitude at the school through respect and tolerance for others.
Think of the sad chapters in human history which would not have been written if people had only shown respect and tolerance for one another as fellow human beings.
Certainly the most horrendous example of ethnic intolerance and hatred in the last 100 years was the Holocaust, in which an estimated 6 million people, mostly Jews but also many other groups, were exterminated by a nation that considered them to be “inferior.” Similar things happened in Rwanda and numerous other African countries, where tribal hatreds run so deep that millions of people have literally been hacked to death by their own countrymen.
In the United States, the Civil War supposedly lifted the bonds of slavery from black Africans who had been forcibly brought to this country. But for a century after the war, these “freed” people continued in virtual servitude, perpetuated by discriminatory laws and attitudes and frequently enforced by lynchings. In the 60 years between 1885 and 1945, nearly 3,400 black Americans met this horrid fate.
Fortunately, public lynchings in this country have become rare since 1945. But individual hate crimes against black Americans still occur. Perhaps that is because some of the hatred against those who are perceived to be “different” has found a new target in those who are homosexual.
The fact remains that our society still has a long way to go to free itself from the poison of intolerance, bigotry, discrimination, hatred, and persecution.
And then we come to the most pervasive and virulent form of intolerance and hatred – that based on religion. It is supposed to teach just the opposite, but religion is all too often perverted in its practice. More people have died in the religious conflicts that fill the pages of history than any other cause.
During the past 30 years, we have been witness to the sad spectacle of Beirut, which used to be known as the Paris of the Middle East, systematically being reduced to rubble in a Christian-Muslim conflict.
Sarajevo, the once proud and joyous host of the 1984 Winter Olympic Games, now lies in ruins after the bitter ethnic and religious warfare which has ravaged the former Yugoslavia for the past decade.
Mindless hatred and violence in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants has escalated to the point where even young girls have been terrorized on their way to school. How proud of their courage must those who perpetrated this disgraceful act be?
We are now watching as religious hatred between Muslims and Jews in Israel and between Muslims and Hindus in India spirals out of control.
And the war on terrorism, in which we are presently engaged, seems likely to turn into an intransigent conflict between Islam and Christianity, fought with terrorism on one side versus modern military technology on the other. Unless we can find a way of reducing the hatred which has spawned this conflict, it is likely to go on for generations and could leave both societies in ruins.
Granted, the “Big Idea Day” at Glenwood Springs High School may be only a small beginning, but it is a step in the right direction, and those who were involved in it are to be congratulated.
Hopefully it will encourage people in our community to examine their attitudes and actions to see whether they are in accordance with the tolerance and compassion which their religion teaches them. Even more wonderful would be if the “Big Idea Day” could spread to schools throughout our state, our country, and even throughout the world.
Hal Sundin’s column runs every other Thursday in the Post Independent.
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