Monday, April 06, 2009

The miles behind us...

My work exposes me to some of the most... interesting specimens of humanity (and I use that word losely sometimes) that you might ever expect to meet. White supremecists, homophobes, skinheads, racists and misogynists... you name it, I deal with them. Sometimes it can be hard to have any hope for the future, or even any hope at all. You do the work though to give people hope, to try and make the world a better place - it sure isn't for the pay check.

One of my colleagues fell into a funk about it the other day. "Why" she asked, "do we even bother? Its not getting better, its never getting better." I had been having a rough day too (see the above noted misogynists) and had to sympathize with her for a bit. But I tried to remember the story of the Chinese Emperor who asked all of the scholars of his kingdom to assemble an encyclopedia of all the knowledge of the world. They first came back with a thousand volumes of knowledge, proud to have completed their work. The Emperor looked at what they had written, shelves and shelves of knowledge, and told them the work was too long. For another ten years they laboured, distilling everything into a shorter version. Finally, they presented him with the completed 50 volumes. He looked over the books, without reading a word, and told them it was still too long. The scholars went back to their libraries, and spent years reducing the work still more. At long last, they presented the Emperor, now an old man, with a single sheet of paper. On that paper, they had written "This too shall pass."

And that really says it all, doesn't it? That one phrase captures the heart and soul of all that has happened, and all that will happen. And hatred and racsim are passing, going the way of the dinosaur and the dodo bird. Sometimes people like to forget that it was only 1954 (only 55 years ago) when Brown vs. Board of Education was decided. Granted, that is an American case, but let's face it, that's really the starting point for most civil libertarians when discussing the civil rights movement. So in 55 years we have come from seperate schools and washrooms, to shared boardrooms. In 55 years, we have come from a black man not being able to eat in the same restaurant to a black man sitting in the Oval Office. In 55 years, we have made huge inroads into racism, sexism, hatred and disdain... which had been the prevailing mentality and behaviour for a thousand years. That's pretty damned impressive.

Are we done? Not even close. We have so much work to do, so many hatchets to bury and treaties to ratify, so many bigots to expose, so many children to educate that the task seems insurmoutable. But look how far we've come. Look at the miles behind us.

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