By Roy D. Follendore III
Copyright (c) 2001 by RDFollendoreIII
August 29, 2001
I love humans and I also don't like them much. I don't like the way that people act toward each other and the world. People often like to think they and their ideas are the only ones that count and everyone else is on the outside. I include myself since I am a person. I admit that I often think like that too. I think we are forced to stereotype others to survive in situations where culture is unpredictable. I might not like that in myself even though sometimes incidents indicate it can be necessary.
I once lived in Saudi Arabia decades ago. My neighbors were Arab Palestinians working there. They seemed like good people. They told me their story about the day that their family had to flee their homes from the invading Jewish army. One morning an artillery started advancing on their small village and they ran. They were not allowed back. These families had lived and worked on the same land for perhaps a thousand years. Suddenly they were homeless. They wanted me to feel their plight.
I talked with these neighbors about the differences between them and the Jews. Other than the religious issues of Mohammad, there wasn't much about the people that they disliked. They just wanted their home back. With so many common values, it made me wonder why Jews and Arabs wanted to kill each other.
I did not have a bathroom in my room, so I had to share one with other men in similar circumstance who were my neighbors. The shower had very small individual stalls with curtains and a common bench. One morning I took my shower, washing and rinsing my hair. I grabbed my towel and proceeded to dry off. That was when I realized that the stall was not large enough for me to bend and dry myself. I stepped out of the shower and quickly dried off, and prior to putting on my shorts, socks, t-shirt and pants. Having played football in High School and been through the Army this should have been a straight forward and commonly accepted activity.
Several of the Palestinians who were nearby instantly became angry and loud that I would do such a thing. Suddenly I was surrounded by several men in their boxer shorts jabbering away in Arabic. One older man came over and said in English that I had committed a taboo. I should be ashamed of walking out of the shower naked into the common dressing room and should have put my clothes on in the shower. They would not accept the fact that was not only impossible for a man of my size, it is not common practice in my country. I told them that I was simply trying to get clean and dressed. They said that I was not in "America" and they were obviously correct about that. I put on my pants, grabbed my things, pushed my way out and left. I later related the incident to a Turkish engineer I knew. He confided that Palestinians were often backward people about such things and the situation could have been worse. Obviously I choose not to go shower there again. Another American allowed me to use their shower.
I found that particular incident disarming the feelings that I had previously held about my neighbors. Until then I thought of them in equal terms. After that I realized that things are not equal because basic values are not equal. I knew that Palestinians are good and bad and in between. I also understood that as a culture they can be intolerant. They share that trait with many Jews I have met over the years. Like Arabs and some other ethnic cultures, I have observed that from the perspective of an outsider, Jews often don't actually ever accept you for what you are because you are not one of them. The differences are always just under the edge of communication. There is an "expectation" of intolerance that gets into the way and I find I may often have to examine my relationship to understand it. Being forced to constantly reexamine something on the fly is uncomfortable.
Over the years I have acquired Jewish friends and Arabic friends. I truly think of them as friends. A few of them have accepted me and in more than one case we have discussed our feelings and reasons for the way we respond the way that we do. On one level I found that I am more Jewish and more Arabic than I had thought. On the other hand, I can't get past the biased concept of any "faith" or culture that dictates reason. Maybe it is who I am as a Scientist, but I can't buy into customs that are apparently designed to control or isolate others, particularly those justified as the one set of ideas and ideals are the only ones that count.
Over the years I have found that parading absolute beliefs in public as a testament of faith can be an aggressive action that is often hurtful. On the other hand, I have to believe that being what we naturally are and doing what is necessary to maintain ourselves should be acceptable and good enough for others because some of us do not fit into stalls. Maybe we are each individually encapsulated by external cultural perspectives of what is good and bad, what is right and what is wrong. If so then the boundaries of this shell is the beginning of backward intolerance. The boundary of absolutism is the event horizon of racism.
It is too bad people can't seem to get along. I might like them all more. Peace.
Copyright (c) 2001-2007 RDFollendoreIII All Rights Reserved