Assumptions, Stereotypes and the Death of a President

So, having somewhat recovered from some nasty surgery inside my face, I was all set to write something loving and sweet about Chanukah; or something like that. But today changed all that.

What I read on facebook today in many instances were  posts or responses that were knee jerk awful.  That George H.W. Bush was a racist, elitist bad white man whose time was done and that his eulogizers were playing to the public, or the cameras. I was stunned by these comments. And I think they do a disservice to the commenters even more than they do the commented on.

I am an unashamed liberal, and I did not agree with much that President Bush believed in although I have to acknowledge he accomplished much good in bipartisan fashion. That being said, here goes. I listened to almost all of the service today and listened intently to those very eulogies. What I heard was the heartfelt admiration, love and grief that those who were speaking had for the late president. And I am old enough to know the truth when I hear it. Those breaking down were not acting, that is clear. And more, what I heard were people listing the same qualities over and over again, and telling stories that were exemplary of those qualities. They weren’t just blowing smoke, they meant everything they said.

And what they said was that George H.W. Bush was a man of great decency and humility who saw everyone from the janitor to the king and took time for them all. What they said was that he was a man of humor and a man who took the time to write personal notes to many with whom he had great differences. Now this is all aside from politics, this is about the man and how he left the office a place we could respect despite our differences. My impression of this president was never of someone whose “patrician” upbringing and status was an obvious characteristic, it was never of someone that placed his personal fortunes above what he perceived were the needs of the country. Maybe I was wrong, but I don’t think so.

It is true that one “side” loses every election. And it is true that we will always have differences of opinion. What was true and seems less so now is that many of our public servants really do put the interests of the many, of the country, above their own. In the currrent climate that seems an old fashioned and naive notion, but I believe. What matters is that everyone understands that win or lose your voice, your vote, counts. My son asked me when he was young why we recycled when everyone didn’t. I can only answer that if each of us did our part, many of our problems would be solved; but it always counts.

It is a terrible thing to think that civility, dignity, humility and humanity are outdated. What matters is how you treat people. What matters is respecting other’s views without ire or anger. What matters is that white, black, rich or poor at some point you know that the interests of the future, of the many, matter more than anything in the now. What matters is heart. And despite disagreeing with many of his political positions, I think George H.W. Bush had heart, in spades. And that I respect.

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What I Want My Son To Know #12 ~ Stand Up And Be Counted

Having principles is a problem; whatever those principles might be. And they always sound good, until they are tested; then they are a problem. Because standing up for them, standing up because of them, doesn’t always make you a popular person. When sometime tells a racial or ethnic joke, or uses hate language “but everyone does it”, it takes courage to say “that’s not funny”. Especially when your friends are all laughing.

But principles are what give your live meaning, and truth, and something to hold on to when you are not sure what gives with the world. Remember that you have friends of color who have experienced discrimination, that you have gay friends who have experienced hatred, that your mother was treated like a servant in my early career becaause women still weren’t expected to be professionals, to be something independent of their husbands ~ a world you can’t imagine.

So something as simple as honesty… telling the cashier there is something under the cart she forgot to charge you for. The habitual practice of honesty will help you when you are really challenged. Something as simple as protecting and caring for those weaker than most; being polite; holding the door for women. Respect the elderly; remembering that they have lived things you can’t imagine and might have something to teach you if you have the patience to listen. This simple practice of respect, for the weak, for women, for the elderly, will bring you relationships you never anticipated and lessons you might be astonished to learn.

Imagine if nobody had stood with the marchers for civil rights; imagine if nobody had stood with women in their fight for property rights and the vote; imagine if nobody had stood for those that Hitler despised. The people that stood up often lost their lives doing so. But they did so because they couldn’t imagine a world in which such terrible injustices continued to exist, and it felt worth their lives to try to prevent these injustices.

I hope you are never tested in that way, I hope your principles never put your life in jeopardy. But I do hope that you have the courage to stand up for what is right in whatever ways challenge you in your life. It is important to stand up and be counted, to look back and say, I lived a life of principle, I did the right things, I did good in the world.

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