While I've been recovering from surgery, I've had a lot of time to think. We live in a world that regularly oversimplifies conflict for lots of reasons. Motives aren't necessarily always insidious or deliberately injurious. My partner is always good to regularly remind me of Hanlon's Razor, which states that we ought never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. I would add to Hanlon that we also ought not to attribute to malice what can also be explained by simple, unthinking prejudice.
Malice implies some deliberate effort to cause pain in another person, and, achieving that, taking pleasure in their own misery. Most people never bother to take the time to concoct elaborate schemes to cause anyone harm. And should they do so, the irony is that they are probably responding out of hurt to something we did or they think we did directly to them. Along those lines, Oscar Wilde said that true friends always stab from the front.
One of my father’s good friends was a conservative Republican. There are even pictures of him affectionately holding me in his lap when I was a toddler. A few years later, he was extremely kind and helpful to my grieving mother when her father died. She still speaks highly of him for the reason to this day. Mom was only a couple years older than me when Grandfather died. I can’t imagine losing a parent now.
A very religious, right-wing Christian, in the early 1970’s he was an instrumental leader who also helped set in place a denominational split. The larger, national denomination made a decision to allow women to be ordained as ministers and to institute more progressive reforms, which included inclusive language and practice towards those openly LGBT. Unwilling to adopt these “liberal” reforms, many Southern churches broke away completely and formed their own association. The arrangement is in place to this day. To them, “gay” is just a lifestyle choice and women are accepted, so long as they don’t preach.
Life is often full of the profoundest of ironies. A secret harbored by one of my father’s friends was that one of the man's sons was gay. Once the son came out, he was essentially disowned and cast away. Because of this decision, he was forbidden to live anywhere near his father, so to not flaunt his gay lifestyle. Apparently the son and the son’s partner never quite moved far enough away for the Father's liking. My father’s friend, who, as I’ve mentioned was also father of a queer child, came to my own father about that same time for help and support. I can only imagine what was said, but I’m pretty sure that the phrase “love him for the way he is” was likely never uttered. I only know about this anecdote because it was invoked, rather angrily, when I myself confessed that I was bisexual years later. And to conclude, it wasn’t until my father’s friend was dying, due to a failing heart, that father and son even began to repair their broken relationship. I’m still not sure the old man ever quite reached more than grudging acceptance.
Enter the complications. This is the same man who encouraged me to always succeed, even when in my teens I developed that regrettable liberal Democrat stance I still hold today. This is the same man who possessed a gentleness and a convivial spirit that taught me that men don’t have to be vicious and angry. The brutality of the playground with its pecking order and emphasis on brute strength and unforgiving conquest shaped my own conception of masculinity. It repulsed me, but one could either retreat to the sidelines as a coward, or fight back and win the respect of one’s fellows. Through his example, I knew I had no need to resort to violence, and it shaped my own nascent pacifism. This is also the same man who, upon his death, I cried for hours.
But had he known my true position on any number of issues, I am fairly certain his attitude towards me would have been very different. And this is the same man that, had he known my sexual orientation, would have likely avoided me from then on, perhaps even with a few concluding hurtful, hateful words. I’m still not sure I understand.
These tragedies, then, wound deeply, not because they are so uncommon, but because they are so ordinary. And it is often impossible to separate completely the person from the idea or concept which we find so objectionable. Should we contemplate the statements of a stranger on this same subject, I find we do not have this same internal debate. We never need reminding of who our enemies are, nor who our allies are. If we did, would we be so eager to strike, to wound, to injure? If we were this emotionally invested in someone else, could diplomacy proceed smoothly, not with mutual fears grounded in paranoid? How would we achieve this world without absolutes?