Something about college seems to get young people thinking about where they’ve come from and what they belong to. Most students are at that age when they’re attempting to define themselves in some way, whether it be in terms of gender or class or ambition. Or, in many cases, race.
Here at work there is an excess of different clubs and organizations begging for admission. There is an African-American group, a Latin-American one, and a Pacific-American one, too. There are clubs for Christians and atheists and homosexuals. And there are even clubs for all the people left over. From what I hear, there may soon be one devoted to paganism as well. Higher education at its best.
It’s ironic, really. College is where people are supposed to expand their horizons, and yet it seems as if all anyone wants to do is put themselves into a nice small box labeled This Is Me.
I’ve been privy to several conversations the past few weeks concerning whose race is what and why theirs are better. Most of these conversations take place at a large circular table in the dining hall. I’ve listened to Hispanics and blacks and Asians, one person from India, three Jews, and two Muslims.
Thus far I have only been a casual observer to these talks and not a participant. I tried once, but was told I was white (shocking, that. I had no idea). I took the liberty of informing them I was one quarter Cherokee Indian. Unfortunately, that was not enough for me to qualify.
Being proud of your ancestry is a good thing I think, so long as that pride doesn’t turn into arrogance. You can build yourself up without having to tear someone else down. But I’ve noticed that many of these conversations have little to do with the extent to which their race has added to mankind and much to do with the amount of misery they’ve endured at the hands of other races.
They all have good arguments. There’s little doubt each of their forefathers have gone though much in the way of undeserved hardship. And maybe still do.
But I’ve been wondering about a few things.
Like worth, for instance. Do we tend to measure our worth by the amount of suffering we’ve faced? Are we all jockeying for position on some cosmic scale of deserved retribution? Or is it more like we’re all a bunch of old men in a bar comparing war wounds? I’m not sure. But if so, then that’s just sort of bad, isn’t it?
Because we can’t compare the wounds on the heart in the same way as wounds the body. There are no nicks upon the soul. No pokes or pricks or scratches. No, every gash there is a gaping one, a canyon rather than a cut. No matter how hard we try to convince ourselves otherwise, life is hurt pure and simple. If there is honor in suffering then we should all be honored, regardless of the color of our skin or the nation of our birth.
I wish we could all realize that.
I see at that dining hall table a microcosm of our world. People sitting in the same places they’ve always occupied, thinking they have the best view of the truth. They talk nice enough most of the time, but that talk is usually interrupted by plenty of shouts and accusations. But still, every day they come and sit and talk. That’s good, I think.
Maybe at some point they’ll all come to understand the truth about humanity. Whether they believe we’ve all evolved from the mire of the earth or were created by a loving God makes little difference here. Either way, we’re all connected. We’re all the same.
All of which makes us one family under one roof, many children with one Father, and every war a civil war.