Got Milk? Join The Campaign for Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness
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“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.” Jalal ad-Din Rumi
December 2, 2008, New York City:
Got Milk? Join The Campaign for Life, Liberty & The Pursuit of Happiness
Happiness is honesty.
However, critical to the successful tenure of honesty (and thus happiness) is tolerance.
People often lie because they are afraid of being rejected, afraid of being judged, and know, based on experience, that they cannot be honest, lest they face unfortunate consequences, because they are “different” and not falling in line with the program.
Although I spent almost 8 years studying international relations at the university and thus learned a great deal about détente, diplomacy and compromise, my oldest son, who was four at the time, taught me my greatest lesson about the importance of truth and the tolerance of others.
We were eating dinner and I was being stubborn and making him “eat everything on his plate,” as I often did, as I still do on occasion. The torment of this poor child was justified by some adulthood nonsense like “I work hard to put food on the table, so now you’ve got to eat it.”
But the ugly truth was that Enzo didn’t like what I had made for him. To the health-and-money conscious chagrin of many parents like me, this is often the case with kids. Thus, getting them to “eat their vegetables” is often like trying to push a square peg into a round hole.
However, as “right” as I may have been to force my child to eat what I had served him, I was also inadvertently teaching him—intolerance and importance of learning to lie. Because, although the honest truth was that the meal was distasteful to him, to survive and avoid an unpleasant experience, he had to learn to deceive me by placing the half-chewed morsel in his napkin.
When I caught him, I immediately recognized my own folly and simply laughed, kissed him and excused him from the table. I felt somewhat ashamed that I had tortured my innocent four-year old son in the name of an ideal, and immediately recognized why and where and when we begin to learn to lie; where the innocence of childhood is lost and where the misery of adulthood begins.
In sum, it is often when we are up against intolerance, when we know that speaking or being or acting honestly will only get us in trouble that we hide, disguise, deceive or lie by omission.
This is why teaching and learning—to compromise our ideals, to accept that our truths are not necessarily the truths of others, and making an effort to accept others, regardless of their differences, is so vital to the health and well-being of humanity and the world today.
"How far you go in life depends on you being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and the strong. Because someday in life you will have been all of these." George Washington Carver
On Sunday morning, after standing in the cold pitter-pattering of rain for thirty-minutes, I got to go inside to see Milk.
Film critics are already saying that Sean Penn deserves an Oscar for his leading role as Harvey in this heroic and inspiring movie.
Milk is the story of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay publicly elected official in the United States, if not the world, who went from feeling lost at 40 in New York at his new corporate job in New York City in 1970 to leading and tragically becoming a martyr for the gay pride movement in San Francisco when he and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated on November 27, 1978.
Writer John Cloud remarked on Milk’s influence, "After he defied the governing class of San Francisco in 1977 to become a member of its board of supervisors, many people—straight and gay—had to adjust to a new reality he embodied: that a gay person could live an honest life and succeed." In 1999, Time Magazine listed Harvey as a hero and an icon and as one of The Time 100 Most Important People of the Twentieth Century.
Until Harvey came along in 1977, there was much to be said for the lack of tolerance in the United States. Although the nation had witnessed and been changed by the women’s and civil rights movements, millions of people whose love, affection and desire for others of the same sex were still hiding in the closet for fear of being judged, imprisoned and often subject to the threat of violence.
(By the way, much like the use of the misnomers of “black” and “white” have long been used to abet the division of races throughout history, I strongly believe that we should stop associating being “gay” primarily with one’s sexual orientation. Because being homo-sexual means a lot more than who you are apt to sleep with. As per Keith Olbermann’s recent commentary, it is also very much a a question of love, affection and the pursuit of happiness. )
As Time Magazine summarized it in their June 14, 1999 issue, being Gay and accepted in America still had a long way to go a mere thirty years ago:
"In the 1970s, many psychiatrists still called homosexuality a mental illness. In one entirely routine case, the Supreme Court refused in 1978 to overturn the prison sentence of a man convicted solely of having sex with another consenting man. A year before, it had let stand the firing of a stellar Tacoma, Wash., teacher who made the mistake of telling the truth when his principal asked if he was homosexual…To be young and realize you were gay in the 1970s was to await an adulthood encumbered with dim career prospects, fake wedding rings and darkened bar windows."
Thus, due to the brave actions of a man like Harvey Milk, a vast number of normal, loving, productive, creative and happy people all over the U.S. were encouraged and instilled with the courage to come out openly about who they were and fulfill one of the basic tenets of the Declaration of Independence signed over 200 years earlier—“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.”
"If a bullet should enter my brain, let the bullet destroy every closet door." Harvey Milk
This morning I read an article in amNewYork, courtesy of Mike Swift of the San Jose Mercury News, titled “Homosexuality in Genes…”
According to this article, recent studies have shown that “compared to straight men, gay men are more likely to be left-handed, to be younger siblings of older brothers and to have hair that whorls in a counterclockwise direction.”
Although one might argue that this new scientific evidence strengthens the notion (i.e. the obvious truth) that homosexuality is a natural, normal and innate inclination, I was also alarmed by the way this news piece presented the significance of the study results. Because by focusing on identifiable, physical traits one might be giving license to bigots to discriminate.
That said, in light of the recent controversial passing of Proposition 8 in California and the release of the critically-acclaimed film Milk, these study results are timely, encouraging and will hopefully lead to some intelligent conversations and conclusions about human nature, living life honestly and the value of tolerance.
As always, thanks for reading.
"I used to think anyone doing anything weird was weird. Now I know that it is the people that call others weird that are weird." Paul McCartney
See also: A Question of Love