Thursday, December 13, 2007

Of Rhetoric and Reaction

You just can't find sober, reasoned reporting in the media anymore. Well maybe you can, but it isn't coming from the major sources in English Canada anyway. The tragic story of the Parvez family of Mississauga is just the latest example. The news reports in all of the major media, as this example demonstrates, go way beyond "just the facts" to include speculation about how this sad event will become a major cultural "flash-point" issue. They hope. It would give them something to flog mercilessly to sell more papers and boost their viewer/listener share ratings.

My fundamental source for "what's goin' on" offers this short, but well reasoned opinion. Like a breath of fresh air it reminded me that at the root of this story is a human tragedy that has no real connection to social and cultural clashes. A certain number of white Anglo-Saxon protestant fathers, or Catholic Latino ones, or African atheist ones, or Asian Taoist ones have been, from time immemorial, and will continue to be, treating their daughters, wives and sons with violence for any number of perceived acts of disobedience. And every so often their anger will take one of them too far.

That the media should spin this story into a public debate over cultural and religious differences that cause social friction is the crime upon the crime. It should be viewed in the same way we view shouting "FIRE!" in a crowded theatre. I am a free speech advocate, but the opinions aren't being carefully kept on the Op-Ed page anymore. The "spin", the "opinion", the "agenda" and the (often way too narrow) "perspective" is everywhere in the media these days. And this constant barrage of sensational fear-mongering, speculation and rhetoric is having an effect.

I don't know about you, but I am encountering more and more people who view people of different cultures and races in stereotypical ways. I am hearing more and more broad-brush-stroke statements that begin with "those people", "they all" and "they believe". While I know the truth is that the uniformity of opinion, perspective, values and beliefs in any group in the world is the same as the uniformity in the tribe I belong to - which means not uniform at all.

If there was a common human experience in the Parvez story it began with the common human emotion of anger. We all know it. We all experience it. We all have hurt others and been hurt by it. Many of us fear it. Most of us respect it. We all try to control it. Almost all of us understand its destructive potential. Wisdom says, "In your anger do not sin." I don't care what god you believe in or what religion you practice or what culture you belong to or what tribe are your ancestors - these words are universally true. Because we all know what happens when we follow our selfish and dark impulses down a road fueled by anger. It NEVER ends well.

Too many will accept the rhetoric of the media in this story as reasonable and true. Too many will react to it and the results will be a further escalation of the cultural and social tensions we are already experiencing far to often. But I won't, and you don't have to either. We must remember that wisdom also says, "there, but for the grace of God, go I".

So if we're going to react to the rhetoric, let's go in the other direction. Let's agree that until each of us personally knows a person of another culture, race or religion we don't know anything about that group - and even then we only know one person. And one person, or one family, does not define a culture, a religion or a race. If you believe that then you better be ready to be the example to the entire world for whomever you represent - to be the one person the rest of the world measures everyone of your culture, race, religion and country by. Are you ready to accept that responsibility?

I thought not.

'Nuff said!