Monday, June 09, 2008

I believe . . .

". . . I believe in my whole race. Yellow, white, black, red, brown --in the honesty, courage, intelligence, durability . . . and goodness . . . of the overwhelming majority of my brothers and sisters everywhere on this planet. I am proud to be a human being."
~ Robert A. Heinlein
This statement was part of an interview given with Edward R. Murrow in 1952. Mrs. Virginia Heinlein read the address in 1988 when accepting NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal, on Robert A. Heinlein's behalf. The award was posthumous. The entire address is available here:

Has our world changed much since 1952? Is it better or is it worse? Has the racism of 50 years ago gone underground, making it harder to fight? Have victims of centuries long repression lashed back with an intolerance that mimics many of the darker aspects of racism?

No matter where you go, people are the same. This is the credo on which many calling for tolerance found their arguments. It does not matter what color your skin, who your grandmother was or where you were born, you're still a member of the human race. We, as members of this great family, should treat each other with the respect that applies to family and friends. However, no matter where you go, there is a pride of being. I'm proud to be a member of my family. Is there something inherently wrong with being proud of your family or your roots? If you believe you are lucky to be a member of a certain group, is this insinuating that other groups aren't as good?

We know the benefits of being inclusive. Do we? Is it human nature to seek out the exclusive? Dr Seuss' Story of the Sneetches does an excellent job of depicted something that seem too common in human societies. Sneetches are a race of odd, yellow creatures who live on a beach. Some Sneetches have a star on their bellies, and in the beginning of the story the presence or absence of a star is the basis for discrimination. Sneetches who have stars on their bellies are part of the "in crowd", while Sneetches without stars are shunned and consequently mopey.

In the story, a "fix-it-up chappie" named Sylvester McMonkey McBean appears, driving a cart of strange machines. He offers the Sneetches without stars a chance to have them by going through his Star-On machine, for three dollars. The treatment is instantly popular, but this upsets the old star-bellied Sneetches, as they are in danger of losing their method for discriminating between classes of Sneetches. Then McBean tells them about his Star-Off machine, costing ten dollars. The Sneetches formerly with stars happily pay the money to have them removed in order to remain special.

However, McBean does not share the prejudices of the Sneetches, and allows the recently starred Sneetches through this machine as well. Ultimately this escalates, with the Sneetches running from one machine to the next,

"until neither the Plain nor the Star-Bellies knew
whether this one was that one or that one was this one
or which one was what one... or what one was who."
This continues until the Sneetches are penniless and McBean leaves a rich man. In the end, the Sneetches learn that neither plain-belly nor star-belly Sneetches are superior, and they are able to get along and become friends.

I am proud to be a member of this human experiment. I just wonder what it will take to get enough people to understand the value in what everyone has to bring to the great buffet table we call life.

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