Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Countdown: 4 Days to Go

Do unto others as you would have them do to you

Luke 6:31


We like to consider ourselves as a tolerant bunch of people.

It's something we believe in so strongly without even thinking that, perhaps, our actions may not exactly match the rhetoric. And yet, we persist in the assumption that tolerance is what guides our interactions with people outside our family, ethnic, social and cultural circles. We believe that by being tolerant the way we are, our actions are doing their bit to help civilisation be the force for good that it's supposed to be, that we are part of the solution and not the problem.

And yet, just a cursory glance over the last 20-30 years will reveal a completely different picture. We can't help but notice a remarkable increase in attitudes and viewpoints that are not just harshly intolerant of 'other' viewpoints or lifestyles, but have crossed the threshold of decent disagreement and turned violent.

This is odd because we are supposed to live in an enlightened age, that somehow we have reached intellectual superiority that differentiates us from other species, and that a combination of education, technology and culture has made us rise above and conquer our primal instincts. And yet, the beast within finds a way to assert itself and leave claw marks all over.

We find a way to make rash generalisations about people groups without even thinking that it is such an intellectually flimsy exercise. I don't wish to give any examples of these generalisations because it would be pointless doing so since every generation has come up with its own bogeymen. Besides, the point of this piece is not to provide a laundry list of generalisations or reiterate something that's common knowledge.

Hence, it makes one curious to see the feeble efforts that some people make in addressing the problems of intolerance. Political correctness is one of those actions being undertaken by those who believe centuries of misunderstandings can be resolved by using different words altogether. It's as if tolerance and open-mindedness is made possible by making a switch in one's vocabulary.

Now it's not as if I dislike political correctness because, in some ways, I do like what is being done in some areas. In some instances, it provides the simplest remedy to correct sexism and other assumptions based on gender. However, when the word Christmas is boycotted to avoid not hurting other minority groups, it is political correctness gone too far and gone absurd.

It is the mark of a civilised society that every people group and cultural entity must feel included in the community that they are part of. They must never feel excluded or threatened in any way because that would undermine the progressive nature of society that we all believe we live in.

But I'm not sure if removing Christ from Christmas and calling it Winterval or Happy Holidays or Festive Season will necessarily do the trick. Christmas is, after all, a celebration of Christ's birth in Bethlehem, and calling it something else would simply negate the 'reason for the season' as it were.

And being someone who lives in a Muslim country, I know for sure that not many people here are offended by "Christmas", and are in fact, amused by what the politically correct denizens are trying to do.

If the main issue is to allow minority groups to feel 'accepted' and develop a sense of belonging, then, one has to do lot more than just 'boycotting' the word Christmas. There has to be substantive work that involves communication, interaction, involvement and acceptance. It doesnt mean one has to sacrifice what one believes in or dump what one holds sacred just to be more accommodating, it just means allowing the other group the space to be what they are and to do what they must.

It also means making no racial assumptions and recognising other ethnic and cultural groups for what they are... as real people!

In the final analysis, being accommodative simply means giving space without losing one's convictions. And also involves doing something that Jesus recommended: Do unto others as you would have them do to you

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