What Unites Us Is Far Greater Than What Divides Us

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – Preamble of the United States Declaration of Independence.

In his book, American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of The Republic, Joseph J. Ellis calls these words “the most potent and consequential words in American history.” Some 239 years after they were written, there are still citizens of this nation who find themselves fighting for these enumerated rights.

I would like to ask you, dear reader, for a favor: as you read this post, I ask that you do so while setting aside both religious and political opinion. My goal is not to convert you to my ideology, rather to make you think about the world in which we live, as I relate an incident I had the misfortune to experience…

I recently visited the home of an acquaintance for lunch. We ate and talked, mostly commiserating about our mutual efforts to find work, as we are both recently unemployed. In comparing our adventures in dealing with the government and applying for unemployment benefits, she mused aloud how much she dislikes individuals who cheat the system, thus making it more difficult on those who truly need assistance. This then led to what I found to be a very odd segue regarding gay marriage.

She said – and I am not paraphrasing – she opposes gay marriage because she does not want any of her tax dollars helping to subsidize gay couples so they can adopt a baby, then sit at home and not work. Believe me when I say I asked for clarification several times, and this is exactly what she meant, so there was no misunderstanding.

In her mind, this is the entire motive behind gay couples wanting to get married: to adopt a child, then quit their jobs and live off the government. It has nothing to do with wanting health benefits. It has nothing to do with wanting legal rights regarding estate planning, etc. No, it was all an elaborate ruse so as to gain government benefits after adopting a child.

Again I requested clarification, and asked if she would be ok with my going out and asking the next woman I met to marry me. “Sure,” she replied with a giggle. But what if I was in a relationship with a man for 10 – 20 years? “No, because I don’t want my taxes paying for your lifestyle.”

How, exactly, would she be paying, I asked? She is convinced that every same-sex couple, if allowed to marry, would instantly want to adopt kids, and actively seek to become leeches on society by then refusing to work and only living on government assistance.

Let’s ignore the fact that in my 16 years of working in retail, I could have pointed out literally dozens of heterosexual individuals/couples who did exactly this, and milked the system for years. Probably still are, for as far as I know. This unapologetic gross generalization of an entire group was so ridiculous, it would have been laughable had it not been so offensive, and she was surprised by my reaction to that effect.

I began writing this blog post back in late February as a result of the discriminatory comments made towards homosexuals. Soon after, however, several widely publicized instances of hate, racial violence, and discriminatory legislation occurred in various parts of the country, and the reactions of many left me unable to find the words for this blog. Now, several weeks later, I am once again trying to complete this post, with all forms for discrimination in mind

My thinking is this: it smacks of the same kind of generalizations and discrimination being fought for generations by racial minorities, women, and the handicapped.

We take for granted that buildings are now required by law to be accessible to those with physical limitations. We’ve forgotten that it wasn’t long ago that women not only couldn’t vote, but required permission from their spouse to have a bank account. And we as a nation are still very much dealing with the rift between the races.

The very first line of the document which declared our nation free from tyranny insists we are all equal, and deserving of the same rights. So, regardless of race, gender, religion, or political affiliation, every citizen of this country should be protected by the same rights as every other citizen.

For quite some time now, individuals and organizations have been focusing on “diversity.” I am sure every member of the human resources community has either had to organize or sit through some form of diversity training. Let me be clear: I am 100% in favor of taking pride in one’s heritage and culture. However, instead of focusing so much attention on diversity – the state or quality of being different or varied – I honestly believe there needs to be more emphasis on UNITY: the state or quality of being one or unified into a whole.

In his address to the Canadian Parliament on May 17th, 1961, President John F Kennedy said the following:

“What unites us is far greater than what divides us. The issues and irritants that inevitably affect all neighbors are small indeed in comparison with the issues we face together…”

I humbly submit the immense issues we all face today will not cease until we all learn to show respect – the very same respect we desire for ourselves – to each and every other fellow inhabitant of this planet. Without judgement. Without obligation. Without stipulation.

Just as we would want others to respect our heritage, beliefs, and rights, we must learn to respect those of others without it threatening our existence. My heterosexuality is not endangered by the homosexuality of another. Nor is my Christianity impeded by the beliefs of another.

We simply must start to love one another. If not love, then at the very least respect each other. There is so much we all have in common. There is so much which could, and should, unite us.

Photo credit:  NASA / Hubble Heritage Team
Photo credit: NASA / Hubble Heritage Team

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