Identity, Diversity and Oppression

The Dream

I share Martin Luther King’s dream of people being judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. Sadly, I have seen that in recent years we seem to be moving further away from that dream.

The dream is of a colorblind world where are all given equal opportunity, with character and skill and ability forming the basis of determinations of accomplishment.

A dream of a world where job applications, promotions, scholarship and University admissions are based solely on ability and objective qualifications.

A dream where we all see and treat each other as individuals with the same consideration and respect.

Sure things like gender, ethnicity, etc are a part of what makes a person unique, but they are not what a person is. If we can’t get past those identity markers, we can not form real relationships with each other. In getting to know people and forming relationships, we come to see a person as a unique individual – we see their personality, character, strengths and weaknesses. Just as we would want to be known and treated well because of who we are, not what we are, we would treat others well.

The Privilege Pyramid based on Oppression Points

After I started writing this, I read an article by Matt Walsh where he describes “The Left’s Victimization Flow Chart.” White men are at the top, followed by white women, then non-whites, then various LGBTQ combinations. He explains leftist thinking as oppression can only go from the top down, with higher groups oppressing those lower down. It is impossible with this thinking for someone in a lower group to oppress someone in a group above.

One way to look at privilege and oppression is an inverse pyramid. The larger majority at the top have greater privilege and oppress the gradually smaller minorities toward the bottom. Those at the top – white males – are seen as the most privileged and the greatest oppressors. An inverse pyramid is top heavy – it looks oppressive.

What I see happening is that now that inverse privilege pyramid has been flipped. It now looks like a regular pyramid, with reversed privilege and oppression. “Priviledged” white men are now at the bottom, with non-white LGBTQ people at the peak.

This is because society now awards people “oppression points”. Those acquiring the most have greater actual privilege in the way of political power and social influence. These greatly oppressed are able to claim victimhood to get what they want – things ordinary and even formerly privileged people must rely on their own efforts to obtain, or may not ever be able to have or do.

These at the top of this new Oppression Pyramid (formerly the bottom of the flow chart) are automatically believed and do not need any facts or evidence to back them up. Their “oppressed” status gives them freedom to pretty much say what they want. They can spew hate speech. They can claim discrimination and accuse others. They can ruin people’s lives if they don’t get what they want. The thinking is that they can’t really “offend” anyone, because they are the most offended.

Conversely those who are considered “white privilege”, especially rich white males, find themselves now on the bottom – the most despised, least believed and less able to use what had been considered advantages to their own or to society’s benefit. Definitely judged by the color of their skin rather than the content of their character.

I don’t think this is what Dr. King had in mind – the oppressed turned into oppressors.

Irony of Diversity

I find it ironic, baffling and disturbing that this is all occurring at a time when diversity has never been so great. The US is especially a nation of immigrants. We have neighbors from all nationalities and ethnic groups. We have intermingled and produced people with all kinds of ethnic and racial combinations. We have easily accessible DNA testing providing evidence of our multi-racial and multi-ethnic combinations. There are fewer and fewer people who can claim to be pure anything. We are almost all mongrels.

Why then, are we putting people into pigeonholes of identity based on characteristics that have become blurred? How hard has it become to accurately identify someone on first glance – by race, religion, or even gender? Yet, assumptions and actions are taken based on such superficial instant judgments.

Why do some people have a need to identify as an oppressed group? Why do some judge people, and others want to be judged, by the hyphenated part before American or the alphabet letter they choose? Wouldn’t they rather be judged by their unique personality or character?

Why can’t we just see each other as individuals with multi-faceted identities? Why can’t we be a people who judge others based on their actions and the content of their character? It is the dream, after all.

Ominous Warning Signs

History provides some ominous warning signs. Looking back on the Holocaust, the Jews were initially targeted, not because of their oppressed position, but for their privilege. Rather, it was the perception of their privilege – having wealth and power and influence that they did not deserve. Resentment for their perceived privilege fueled and justified others oppressing them. Then having been stripped of all privilege they became totally oppressed.

The great communist regimes didn’t target those lowest on the socio-economic ladder, though peasants eventually suffered greatly. The largest regimes were largely racially homogeneous populations, so race was not really a factor. Communists and Socialists targeted the privileged – the elite, the wealthy, the educated.

The presumed oppressed became the oppressors – or were used by those with some power seeking greater power to remove and destroy those previously having social and political power. The results were disastrous. The elite were destroyed, the poor remained poor and oppressed now by the government. But the newly elite party leaders enjoyed the spoils.

Our Choice

The challenge and choice for us in America is to find a way to recognize and accept differences without value judgments and accusations. We need to return to the principles upon which our government and country were founded. We all have the same God-given rights. Justice requires that we be judged by our actions, not our identity. Can we give up the competition for victimhood? Can we replace identity politics with justice and liberty for all?

Wisdom

wisdom

This world is so badly in need of wise men and women. My study of King Solomon for a Sunday School lesson led to much pondering about wisdom – what it is, how to acquire it, and the mystery about the lack of wisdom in our world.

wisdom of Solomon

Solomon’s wisdom – see 1 Kings 4:29-34

Solomon’s wisdom was a gift from God. God’s love is unconditional, but His gifts come with conditions. To have a gift of the spirit, one must be in a position to be sensitive and receptive to the spirit. Solomon’s gift came with several “ifs”, cautioning that he would lose it if he turned from God and from following His laws.

What is Wisdom?

Dictionary definitions of wisdom include learning & knowledge, but wisdom is in the use of knowledge – the power of judging rightly and following the soundest course of action. Wisdom begins with intellect, learning and knowledge, but builds on that with understanding and insight. It can come through experience as well as study, yet some may have vast experience yet still not get it.

Wisdom requires discernment – the ability to discern truth from error, for real wisdom is based on truth. It also involves the ability to know what things are of most importance and lasting value.

Solomon himself wrote many wise Proverbs (see Proverbs 1-9), but his wisdom was not purely intellectual. True wisdom is reflected in action.

Wisdom differs from being clever or cunning (see 3 Nephi 21:10), because those tend to be deceptive and self-serving. Wisdom is honest and true and benefits all.

Foolish and Vain

Frequently in the scriptures I see the terms “foolish and vain” paired together. (See Romans 1:21Titus 3:92 Nephi 28 ; Alma 39:11; Helaman 12:4Helaman 16:22;  We think of foolishness as the opposite of wisdom. Why is “vain” paired with foolish? What is foolish about vanity or vain things?

We think of vanity as being proud and self-serving. A vain person is conceited with an excessively and possibly unrealistic regard for self. There is something false or deceitful about vanity.

Definitions of vain also include things of no real value or significance, things lacking substance, anything empty, worthless, fruitless. Things that have an appearance of value or desirability, but no real substance. You might think of vain as a pretty puffed up outer shell that is hollow within.

In this sense the two definitions actually merge, as someone who is vain in the sense of being proud actually may have no real depth of character under a boastful exterior. The vain are all show with little substance.

There is vanity in thinking you are wise. Thinking one knows and understands already leads to pride and a resistance to learning, especially from the source of true wisdom. (

O that cunning plan of the evil one! O the vainness, and the frailties, and the foolishness of men! When they are learned they think they are wise, and they hearken not unto the counsel of God, for they set it aside, supposing they know of themselves, wherefore, their wisdom is foolishness and it profiteth them not. And they shall perish. (2 Nephi 9:28; see also Proverbs 3:5-7)

Wise Judgement

To be vain is foolish – to put undue importance on things of little significance. Scriptures point out the opposite “plain and precious” indicating that things of most value are more plain than flashy. Wisdom can discern between things of lasting value and those of little worth and make judgments and decisions based on those most worthwhile.

Just as it is foolish to choose or pursue vain things, it is also foolish to base judgement on things of no real value. What could be more foolish than spending a lifetime acquiring stuff, having fun and seeking people’s approval? Yet, such superficial and insignificant, though outwardly appearing fashionable or popular trends are what much of the world bases judgement on.

Wise judgement is based on sound principles and unchanging truth. It requires an understanding of truth. It is based on standards that have stood through time and have been tested and proven.

The Mystery/Paradox

The Apostle Paul contrasted the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God.

And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power:
That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect: yet not the wisdom of this world, nor of the princes of this world, that come to nought:
But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: (1 Corinthians 2:4-7; see also 1 Corinthians 1:20-31)

The wisdom of the world is really foolish and vain. Those who are wise in their own eyes are really fools. Fools mock. The world mocks faith in God as foolishness, yet the wisdom of the world is based on vain things, and is really foolish.

The path to true wisdom is the plain and precious truths of the gospel and the Spirit which enlightens understanding. The simple and pure faith in Christ, which the world considers silly or foolish, is really the path to true wisdom. This is the great paradox.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a wise judge, put it this way:

“God assumed from the beginning that the wise of the world would view Christians as fools . . . and He has not been disappointed. Devout Christians are destined to be regarded as fools in modern society. We are fools for Christ’s sake. We must pray for courage to endure the scorn of the sophisticated world. If I have brought any message today, it is this: Have the courage to have your wisdom regarded as stupidity. Be fools for Christ. And have the courage to suffer the contempt of the sophisticated world.”

Where to Find Wisdom

The greatest wisdom comes from the source of all wisdom. James advised “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5)

Gordon B. Hinckley said:

We need not look far in the world to know that “the wisdom of the wise has perished and that the understanding of the prudent has come to naught.” That wisdom for which the would should seek is the wisdom which comes from God. The only understanding that will save the world is divine understanding. (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 500)

O be wise; what can I say more?

Respect

The lack of respect I see in the world today disturbs me. I think ultimately the respect or disrespect we show tells more about our own character than about the object of our respect or disrespect. We need to be respectful for our own sake.

Respect

Respect is related to civility, courtesy and politeness, but I think it goes deeper than these. Definitions include feelings of esteem or honor as well as courteous behavior. We rightly respect those we hold in very high regard based on their personal character or achievements. There is a sense of duty or obligation to show deference towards those in high positions. Civility requires this, regardless of our personal feelings toward such persons. Respect also includes showing consideration for others and their rights.

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Shame Culture has Taken us All Back to Junior High

By rejecting divinely instituted moral standards in favor of changing opinions and judgement of the group, we are left with the uncertain insecurity and shame culture we experienced as adolescents.

I read an enlightening opinion piece in The New York Times by David Brooks titled “The Shame Culture” (3-15-2016) Rather than quote extensively from it, I will try to summarize a few ideas as I understand them and encourage all to read this article yourself. As often happens to me, at the time I read this I was also reading something else – a novel about High School bullying gone horribly wrong. I recognized the concept of shame culture as basically what we all endured as adolescents – only now more pervasive and disturbing.

SHAME CULTURE AND JUNIOR HIGH

Shame culture is about one’s feeling of being good or bad being connected to acceptance by a group. It is about conforming to the specific rules of the group and meeting their expectations to receive approval. Those who violate rules of conduct or simply do not fit in with expectations or conditions of the group are excluded. In the process they are judged and negatively labeled, leading to the conclusion and resulting feelings that they are bad.

Isn’t this what most of us had to endure in Junior High and High School? The desire to be popular, to have people – the right people – like us leads to sucking up to the elite, hoping for some attention and inclusion in return.

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Reacting to Criticism

Being criticized may not be such a bad thing, if we take time to reflect on our own reaction and our reasoning.

At a few times during recent months, I have found myself feeling some familiar but unpleasant feelings. This happened when comments or criticism “hit a nerve” or triggered a defensive reaction. Usually we just react, but I forced myself to stop and think about why. Why did that comment from that person cause such a strong emotional reaction? No one really likes to hear criticism, but there are different kinds of criticism. It is one thing to have a mistake pointed out. Errors can be corrected, often without major damage to the ego. But often, as I think in these cases, the criticism is not so much about what was done or said, but includes an element of shame. There is some inference (maybe intended, but also possibly just perceived) of judgement associated with it – an underlying message that we are somehow a bad person, an idiot, or a fool. The feeling is that we are being personally attacked. The feelings may be more intense when the giver of the message is someone we feel has no position of authority or superiority to judge us. “How dare they” we think and want to strike back. We may also feel a need to defend ourselves and our position.

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Character

Character reflects how we actually are – deep down and real. It can not be faked. It is reflected in how we behave when we are alone, or when we think no one is watching or listening.

Character

This month I have chosen to discuss “character”. There are several definitions of the word, but I want to focus on that which refers to specific traits, qualities or attributes reflected in a person’s personality and behavior – the character of an individual. This could be looked at in terms of patterns of behavior, or a collection of various moral and mental qualities. Sometime the term is used to refer to more excellent qualities of character, but character can also be negative or lacking.

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Discernment without Cynicism

In today’s world, it is a challenge to see clearly and judge between good and evil or the true from the false, while remaining hopeful and optimistic. It is easy to become cynical, discouraged, and feel hopeless.

Cynicism

The term cynic originated with an ancient Greek philosopher named Cynic who held virtue to be good. He became cynical of the rest of society and the material interests he saw. “Cynical” by definition implies a belief that people are motivated only by selfishness. It causes one to question the sincerity of people’s motives or actions. It implies disbelief in human goodness.

There is evil in our world – and people who have been corrupted by it. So many lies being spread that it is hard to know what is true. There are some who are simply misled, and may or may not be forceful in promoting falsehoods. Others have in effect “sold their souls” and embraced lies and evil. They manipulate and use others for their selfish purposes. We do need to be able to recognize such people and see them for what they are- not simply to condemn them, but to prevent them from gaining power that could cause harm to others and to our common freedoms. Too many people are easily deceived and mislead by such people, largely because they are able to present an acceptable face to the world, and often are very convincing.

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