Thursday, September 15, 2005

a person's it really that simple?

i was in discussion with a friend yesterday about the ills of american society and suggested solutions for them. at the end of the discussion, he told me that the solution to many of the ills began with respect and recognition of value of everyone and their contributions to society. he followed that by saying that he had phrased it way too simplistic. i responded by telling him that it wasn't too simplistic. while the solution is simple, the efforts necessary to obtain the solution would be difficult.

is it really that simple? would viewing the janitor and CEO with the same value lens improve relations in american society? isn't that somehow devaluing the individual accomplishments that currently set one person apart from another? also, would universalizing this idea of what is valuable mean forcing everyone to accept one value system, where a man's worth is determined simply upon his existence and nothing else? what would motivate one to become a better person if he or she is already seen as one whose value is equal to everyone else? is it human nature to strive to be better than the next person, as opposed to striving to be and do better just because that's what we're supposed to do?

as i sit here pondering these questions, i can't help but be overwhelmed, primarly because i have always thought it was just that simple. i figured if people recognized the worth of others, the world would be a better place. yet treating a person with respect doesn't mean the person is respected. i treat my boss with respect but i don't respect him. my actions tell nothing of what my heart feels, and there's the quandry. many of us do things that directly contradict what we feel in our hearts. for example, the non-profit organization i used to work for did "good" deeds for the community, but they didn't care about the community. the people of that organization were concerned with the financial gain and the good image they'd project as a result of these deeds. they still viewed the people they helped as nothing more than ignorant "ghetto-dwellers" who needed to be showed how to "better themselves."

action without belief in those actions make them hollow. integrating one's school because the federal government makes you doesn't mean you now all of a sudden view those brown-skinned kids as equals, as human beings who deserve the same chances as you do. sending aid to the victims of katrina doesn't automatically mean that you see those people as human beings who deserve the same opportunities that you do. as i told my friend yesterday, many of those people were poor prior to the hurricane, and their plight was ignored by most of the same people who are helping them now. has the value of these victims of katrina now increased as a result of a natural disaster? are they now seen as the human beings affected by an uncontrollable force that stripped them of all they had despite their efforts to prevent it when before they were seen simply as poor people who put themselves in their situation because they lacked the necessary traits to get themselves out of poverty? is the only reason we can suddenly put a face to poverty and struggle because a hurricane wiped away the darkness and left the images of their faces imprinted upon our consciousness?

so i guess in the end it really isn't that simple. there has to be the belief that all people, regardless of the differences in appearance, financial station, background, etc., are deserving of the opportunity to obtain happiness on their terms. it's an appreciation of what's brought to the table, whether it be the roasted turkey or the rolls, the broom or the billions, because every one of us contributes to the success and failure of our society.