Monday, April 19, 2010

AIDS Awareness

April 19, 2010

I had a surprising experience over the weekend. While it would be difficult for me to explain the effect this Elton John song has had on me, I think today is a slight indicator. The song tells of an estranged son who has been rejected by his father for being gay. In real life, the son's name was Ryan White, who will be familiar to many. The song also tells of warm reconciliation. Even though I never knew a gay person growing up, nor had I met anyone with AIDS, this song would always touch my heart.

I have garnered much more experiences since then, therefore I still hold the song very dear. However, there is a side of me that wants to weep when I hear the song. There are times when I am frankly ashamed and embarrassed of myself and the way I felt about the world in the past. Without getting too detailed, I will simply state that my attitude toward homosexuality and AIDS as a young man was something like: "Well, they deserve to die for getting AIDS, and God is punishing them." I won't even get into how this narrow view doesn't even capture the broad segment who contracted AIDS through no fault of their own, but I'm sure at the time I was certain the gays were to blame for the spread.

On Saturday I was listening to Elton John's song, and I felt intense shame for my past feelings on the matter. What a horrible way to view the world! Why would anyone think anything other than how sad it is that people even have to deal with such an awful disease, and that many had to die from it. How awful to think that in our country, we may have hesitated to help those who could have otherwise survived, because of thinking I displayed previously - the very thinking that many probably still believe today?

I did not realize it until today, but there was an AIDS walk taking place on Saturday in Laramie. I don't think I was even aware it was going on until I ran into a friend who had participated. But I wonder if I was maybe there in spirit as I was having these thoughts in my mind. The thing is, AIDS is still a horrific disease that kills people all around the world. I don't know why we don't hear more about it, but I am saddened by every death, no matter where or how it happens. I think in the future I will want to raise more awareness of this disease, and be more involved in lending understanding and compassion to those who may be suffering because of it. Although I regret the way I have felt about this matter in my youth, I take solace in the fact that I have been able to change my perspective for the future.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Accepting Differing Opinions

April 18, 2010

The more I learn, the less I know. On the other hand, the more I learn, the more sure I am about certain things. For one, people have many different views and perspectives of the world. This is not a new phenomenon. It is not an earth-shattering revelation. And yet, it is a slightly novel idea to me in some respects.

You see, growing up, I was taught that there was only one "right" way to think - about religion, and about politics. I was not taught to have respect for those views that were contrary or distinct in some way to mine. Rather, I was basically taught to ridicule those ideas as inferior, because if people were intelligent, they would obviously come to same conclusions that I had reached in my life.

I have since just started to scratch the surface of learning the wonder of a world full of diversity. There are myriad religions, political parties, clubs, and family arrangements. While they are not all exactly in agreement with the way I conduct my life, I rejoice in the differences, and the similarities. I strongly detest those who mock others' ways of viewing the world.

I also question the need to mock and/or be defensive with regards to one's own beliefs. To me these days, an excessive amount of defensiveness, or invoking of the persecution card, or belittling of others, may be nothing more than insecurity on the part of the individual doing such acts. If one has a conviction and a confidence about what they believe, they need not feel a need to act in such a way. Security in belief is best reflected in accepting fully that others have different viewpoints, and that is okay.

Accepting differing opinions is the first step in opening up the mind and the intellect to view the world in a whole new spectrum/paradigm/light. I am so glad that I took the risk to understand the world better, and to have more respect for as many perspectives and views as possible. I invite anyone to make the jump.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

A Long Journey - Moving Forward

April 10, 2010

It has been sometime since I have given a strong opinion on this issue or that. I often have a hard time capturing an accurate description of my philosophies because they seem to always be evolving as I gain newer information. I try to avoid labels because they don't help; they only bring on overgeneralized stereotypes and judgmental reactions.

Over the last several years I have been on a long journey. I remember several years ago thinking how I wanted to be able to understand opposing points of view without becoming furious all the time, which at the time was how I always seemed to react. Back then I was a bloody red conservative. I could have never imagined that actually making the decision to look at differing views as objectively as possible would change my entire world view so drastically.

I now can accept others' viewpoints as just as valid as mine, in the context of their experiences and worldview. This does not undermine the fact that my perspective is just as valid - for me. In my view, this is much more realistic in relation to how the world really turns today. Diversity is the rule, and I have come to embrace that fact, with the idea in mind that we still have more in common than we have differences.

I do not regret questioning the long-held beliefs of my youth, even though it has caused some friction now and again with some of my closest associations. While I feel I have walked this path despite the uncertainty of where it would lead, I can see why some might believe I am just another example of why people generally are afraid to take those first tenuous steps. It is scary and uncomfortable changing viewpoints and being humble enough to admit you may have been wrong, or that you might even be wrong now. A lot of times along the way I have felt like I was losing my faith because so many things I thought were rock solid beliefs started to crumble before my eyes. But I continue to hang on to things I have always valued greatly, and the other things I let go of.

It has taken me awhile, but I am getting comfortable having views that contradict some of the things I was taught growing up, at church, at school, at home. I feel I am nearing the point where I can talk about those 'aberrant' beliefs openly, regardless of the consequences. I hope to do so in a respectful way. And I hope to bring a perspective that can verify that my perspective and views are not crazy, or unfounded. I hope that someday I can be a comfort to others who feel they have 'unorthodox' political, religious, or social views, to help them feel they are not alon
e - as I have often felt at times during my journey - and that having differing views does not make them wrong.