It is not bigotry to be certain we are right; but it is bigotry to be
unable to imagine how we might possibly have gone wrong.
– G.K. Chesterton, essayist and novelist (1874-1936)
When I first read this quote, I stumbled over the word “bigotry.” I didn’t associate bigotry with being right or wrong, but with people hurting other people for unjust reasons.
As I reread the quote several times (always wise with Chesterton quotes), I tried to place the situation into context. In what situation could a person not be able to imagine that he had gone wrong?
The answer: when he has found someone else to blame.
In most branches of culture in the West, laying blame on someone else is one of the primary rules taught to children.
“My child didn’t do anything wrong, it was the others who did it and blamed him.” “My child didn’t do anything wrong, it was the teacher who let the others get away with it and my kid got blamed.” Then there’s a whole litany of examples where father or mother hold the main responsibility for something going wrong, but they repeatedly blame someone else, usually a boss, co-worker, neighbour, family member or someone else they don’t want to see succeed.
The “mother” and “father” parts of those blame sessions serve as role models for the children. What kids learn is what their parents do. This lessons is: when something goes wrong, always find someone else to blame.
That’s not significantly different for blaming unemployment on immigrants who have come into a country and take jobs that the country’s natives would not accept. Including when doctors, judges, architects and professors have to drive taxicabs or work construction jobs because they aren’t allowed into the professions that secured their right to immigrate in the first place.
It’s not significantly different from blaming people of one particular skin colour for doing what they felt absolutely necessary to do to survive when their underfunded education system didn’t give them the skills, attitude and work habits they needed to enter the work force as equals with their peers who happened to be born with more or less skin pigment.
It’s not significantly different from advocates of political correctness who take absurd positions on what might be insulting to “others” (whose opinions they never request) and force the majority to bend to their will by using language like a political or religious paintbrush. Or others of their peers who despise changes in language usage from what they were taught in school, as children, even though language constantly changes (a fact they seem not to know or accept).
Self-righteous people are bigots, no matter in what colour of robes they clothe themselves. Every religion has its share, people who want to tell others how to live their lives. People who condemn others for “sins” they may have invented themselves or adopted from other publicly acknowledged prejudicial organizations, such as the Ku Klux Klan white supremacists of the past in the USA.
The very people who claim that sinners will go to hell when they die when they are condemned by God want to play God themselves and punish the sinners here and now. They want to punish sinners (or preferably have others punish them) who have not broken laws but who may live by moral codes that differ from their own. Despite what they supposedly believe about God punishing sinners when they die, the bigots want to see anyone who is clearly different punished, preferably before they die. Just to make sure that God doesn’t overlook the sinners and let them pass into the same heaven the bigots plant to inhabit themselves.
If the sinners are wrong, these people believe, they should suffer here as well as later. For what are the sinners to blame? They’re different. Bigots have no trouble trumping up reasons to condemn those they feel superior to.
To a bigot, fixing is not the focus, blaming is. To a bigot, teaching someone who is clearly at fault for something so that the same problem or error will not happen again is not as important as making someone suffer now for the fact it happened.
We each get to be blamers or teachers. Destroyers or fixers. Spies or mentors. Those between the extremes live relatively meaningless lives, lives that will result in them not being missed when they die.
Like it or not, the blamers, destroyers and spies receive more recognition when they die than the multitude in the middle between the extremes. Hitler blamed the Jews (for just about everything negative he could think of), for example, and look at how many millions of people believed him and wanted to make him emperor of the world. We remember Hitler today.
We also remember The Mahatma, Mohandas K. Gandhi, a man who singlehandedly brought the attention of the world to the atrocities and brutalities that the British were inflicting on their biggest colony, India, resulting in the country’s eventual independence. Though many people died at the time of independence of India and Pakistan, no one blamed Gandhi who taught that peace was the only way to effectively change anything. The massive slaughter was based on religious prejudice–Muslims and Hindus blaming each other for their problems–not on what Gandhi achieved through peace.
Strangely enough, most of the good citizens of South Asia accepted that communal violence was wrong, they stopped blaming each other and decided that the only way for the future was to coexist peacefully. They learned, they changed and they live now in peace.
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow their children without prejudice, by teaching them what is truly right and wrong.
Learn more at http://billallin.com