By Gene Bixler
There's a new song out these days that carries with it perhaps the strongest message of hope since Garth Brooks' controversial hit that topped both the pop and country charts "We Shall be Free." As you might have guessed, the title of this new inspirational song is "What If ." Without going into a great deal of detail, the piece centers around the theme of unity. It proposes the theory that if we all join together in our cause of bettering humanity, then "maybe we could change things." Perhaps this is true for finding a cure for AIDS and for sheltering all our homeless, but does this same ideology have a hope of helping us, the gay community, reach our goals of acceptance and equality? And if so, how can we ever hope to reach that point of, as the song says, "singing with just one voice?
Our community has long been divided on a wide range of issues, and that divisiveness itself may be preventing us from moving forward with our hopes and dreams for the future. Consider the reaction when former Olympian Greg Louganis told the world he was gay. Many in our community applauded him for his courage in stepping forward and heralded him as a new role model for us all to follow. Others, however, felt that he cheated the gay community by not coming forward about his sexuality before the Olympics. These people believed it would have made a greater statement for Mr. Louganis to have competed in the Olympics as an openly gay, proud man rather than being remembered later for it. Consider next the coming out of actress Ellen DeGeneres. Again, she was seen by many in our family as courageous and bold for making this very positive step for herself and for the community as a whole. Again, however, others in our community chided her, saying that she waited entirely too long and lessened the positive impact she could have made for the gay rights movement. It seems that these people want everyone to be an activist. They believe that all gay persons should be screaming from the rooftops about their pride and happiness at being who they are, regardless of the personal consequences. They want us all to live for the community first and for ourselves second. It seems they are trying to get us all to "sing with just one voice," to be united in our cause and in our actions by which we achieve that cause. What we have to ask ourselves, however, is whether or not this is the song we wish to be singing, for if we sing too loudly or even just a little off-key, we may cause society simply to turn off the radio.
You may be familiar with the fable by Aesop known as "The Crow and the Pitcher" or "The Crow and the Water," depending on the book you read. In the fable, a thirsty crow is in need of water and, after a lengthy search, finds a pitcher with just a small amount of water in the bottom. Try as he might, though, the crow cannot reach his beak far enough down into the pitcher to reach the water. After a bit of thought, however, the crow decides that he can bring pebbles, one by one, and drop them into the pitcher. Eventually, the water level would rise enough for the crow to drink. The moral of the fable is, "Little by little does the trick." What Aesop is trying to teach us is that, with just a little patience, our goals, whatever they may be, can be achieved. If the crow had not been so patient, he may have looked for a faster solution to his problem of being unable to reach the water to quench his thirst. Perhaps he could have tipped the pitcher over, sending the water flowing out to the ground. Certainly this would have required less time and much less work, but a little foresight tells us this solution could not succeed. The water would immediately have been absorbed into the soil and the crow would have continued on his way in search of another source of water. The same can be said for our search of freedom in the gay community. Obviously, we can save a good deal of time by marching on Washington and holding parades in which we shout for change and scream about injustice. Naturally, this would require very little work and would cause immediate change. Unfortunately, this approach, which many seem to enjoy, is like rocking the pitcher. What's going to happen if we continue using this rash style? What will happen to us when we shatter the pitcher and send the water on its natural course? Will we leave ourselves any hope of satisfying our terrible thirst?
It amazes me to look back over the past ten years and see the progress we've made in making the world a better place for all of us. The problem is that, if you don't look hard enough, you'll miss the little steps we took to get where we are. It may appear to you as if you went to sleep one night in a tyranny and awoke the next morning in a free land, but no such large leaps have been made. Change is a slowly moving, continuous process. The key to the successes we've achieved is not our willingness to "swing from the chandeliers" (see the Oprah Winfrey episode with Ellen DeGeneres) insisting that the world love us, nor our ability to get thousands of people together for a parade in which we criticize the world, but instead it is the ability of a few to take small steps in a decades-long journey. You've all heard the saying "Rome wasn't built in a day." The same is true for all massive undertakings. We can't expect to change the world in just a few short years because the world resists change. The world is comfortable the way it is, and anything we do that could shake the very foundations of that comfort will be fought strongly.
It was a hundred years after the slaves were freed that African Americans gained the protection of their rights that they so richly deserved and struggled so hard for. And even still today, there are those in our society who refuse to recognize the racial minorities in this world as being equal to us all and deserving of our love and respect. How long before the first conventions on women's rights did the females of the United States gain the right to vote? For that matter, how many decades passed between the time the American colonists first felt uncomfortable with their relations with England and the time we forged our own path after the American Revolution?
In each of these examples, there were protests and fights, but those protests and fights led simply to greater resistance. Sometimes, as we have proven, it is necessary to fight harshly, but often, discretion is required. Women gained the right to vote when the logical, moral, ethical and social ramifications of continuing to deny them that right were made clear to the ruling class. Minorities gained freedom when the nation could no longer ignore the potential loss of greatness by refusing them that liberty. And, of course, the American colonies gained their independence from England through war, but they did not gain acceptance by the world until they mastered the art of peaceful persuasion.
The message in all these situations is a simple one: It is easy to get the world's attention using loud voices or large weapons. However, you cannot do anything positive with that attention until you quiet down and drop your guns. There is a time for screaming at the top of your lungs, and there is a time for careful, quiet, small and provoking discussion. Where are we?
"What if everybody cared with just one heart? What if everybody tried to light one spark? Maybe we could change things." Maybe. But with whose heart do we care? And is the spark we're trying to light going to be the spark that burns us all to ash?
What if ?