Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Rudy, and the Selflessness of the Majority

I recently watched the movie Rudy.  While I had seen it before, it had been a while.  For those of you unfamiliar with the movie, Rudy is based on the true story of Rudy Ruettiger who defied the odds and became a walk-on football player at the University of Notre Dame in the mid 1970's.

Rudy spends all of his career on the practice team, meaning he plays defense while the first team offense runs their plays over and over in order to perfect them for live action.  Rudy is undersized, so he is beat up regularly by the much bigger, faster, scholarship players who are the starters.  While Rudy knows he may never actually play a down during a regular game, he is relentless everyday in practice because he understands his role on the team.  His only goal is to dress for a game so that he can run out of the tunnel onto the football field with the other players.

As the day of the last home game for Rudy approaches, he is still not chosen to dress for the game, but unbeknownst to him, many of the starters approach the coach and offer to sit out the game so that Rudy can dress.  In the end, the coach acquiesces, and Rudy gets to watch his first game on the sidelines, with the players and coaches.

It is this gesture of self sacrifice by some of the starters that reminds us that it is only through the selflessness of those who have, that the have nots might be granted their due.

I don't believe it a reach to suggest that if not for the white population of America, the accomplishments of the civil rights movement may not have happened.  This is not to say that the efforts of the great black civil rights activists, along with the unheralded thousands of everyday people, were not necessary.  Indeed, a suppressed minority must always take the first step towards earning equal treatment.  But it is my contention that without the realization of enough of the white majority that separate but equal was onerous, the movement may not have succeeded.

Similarly, a significant percentage of heterosexual people support the idea that an American should be able to marry the person they love, regardless of gender.  One might argue that it was legal arguments that helped progress both civil rights and gay marriage, but without the support of the majority, I contend that those legal decisions were meaningless.

As an example in the other negative, I would offer the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Clearly, few would argue that the middle class workers of America have realized very little of the benefits of capitalism in the past 30 years.  Wages are stagnant, three income households prevalent.  Even worse, one of the paths to income equality, education, has grown so expensive that the middle class finds itself caught between attending schools with lower name recognition, not attending college at all, or massive debt.  Yet, not only did this movement fizzle out, not only has the top 5% continued to garner the lion share of the improvements in the economy since 2008, but Americans elected a self proclaimed billionaire to the highest political office in the land, who in turn has appointed other billionaires to govern.  The haves not only have not bought into the need to provide more to the have nots, they have convinced many of the have nots that subsets of the have nots are to blame for our problems.

Through rhetoric inspired by all the negatives of nationalism, racism, and xenophobia, the haves have successfully turned the ire of enough of the have nots against the poor, the immigrants, the refugees, and all other people who have been doing with less while waiting for the crumbs of trickle down economics to fall upon them.  In doing so, they have awakened our most selfish of inclinations, turning the phrase do unto others as you would have them do unto you on its head; do unto others before they do it to you.

So, how do we energize the selflessness of the majority to allow for those who deserve it to attain their goals when the rules dictate otherwise?

First, we must begin to see them as individual people.  As is the case whenever we choose to consciously kill other humans, the first thing we do is dehumanize them.  Japs, Krauts, Gooks, Commies, terrorists.  Once we have reduced them to a derogatory term or class, it is much easier, psychologically, to justify actions that authorize slaughter.  Even when actual killing is not involved, it is much easier to participate in prejudice when we can find a derogatory label such as nigger, faggot, or raghead.  Once identified, it is easy to blame all the ills of society on those who resemble that group.  The fact that many of them might be children doesn't matter.

Second, we must recognize that there are bad people in every group, but that does not make the group as a whole bad.  Would we characterize all priests as pedophiles because a small percentage of them have been accused as such?  Would we condemn all firefighters because some have been guilty of arson?  Or spit at all police officers due to the inappropriate actions of the few?

There are Muslims who are jihadists, and they must be dealt with, but the vast majority of Muslims are not terrorists.  There are illegal immigrants who are criminals and they must be deported, but the vast majority of illegal immigrants are regular people seeking a better way of life.  It is only by differentiating those who wish harm, regardless of their physical traits or culture or religion, that the majority can work to guarantee freedom and opportunity for all people, haves and have nots.

Finally, and perhaps this is less selflessness that self preservation, the vagaries of economics, demographics, and culture, may one day turn against someone who presently finds comfort in being part of the majority.  Eventually, all of us are in the minority.  Perhaps when we find that we must move to a different country or different area of our present country for family or for work.  Or perhaps when one of our children chooses a partner of a different race or sexual preference.  Or perhaps when our perspective of governing becomes our of favor.  Or perhaps when we find ourselves at an advanced age, a bit more dependent on those younger than us who are creating the economic rules of the land.

Will we then wish we were treated the same or better than how we treated those in the minority when the majority looked and thought like us?

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