Being judge and jury all in one has got to be a heavy burden, but don't you know a lot of people who like the job? It is a popular avocation, even a full-time occupation for many. People who create this job for themselves can never be off duty or go on vacation. The work is just never done. They must be ever vigilant, lest anybody get away with anything that might differ an iota from the perspective of the ones who have made themselves the arbiters of right and wrong, the acceptable and the unacceptable, the good and the bad.
I can't imagine when they rest, can you? Gosh, they must be up all night, scrolling the Internet for news of someone doing something "bad" or at least something that could be questioned. They dash for the newspapers in the morning for other hints that could aid and abet them in their self-appointed posts. Innocent Facebook comments can provide opportunities for venomous and vicious judgment of a person's character, family of origin, ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation. They gather and distribute gossipy tidbits gleefully.
Tearing down another - making a judgment and issuing a sentence at one fell swoop - can be awfully satisfying to certain people. Former Georgia Gov. George Busbee - now deceased - had a granite plaque on his desk chiseled with the obvious: "It is easier to tear down a house than to build it up." It is the easy way out always to oppose other ways of thinking and remain safe in your own world rather than risk the discomfort of opening up to different views and perhaps having to alter or expand your understanding.
There are as many different ways of thinking, believing, acting and living in this world as there are people on the face of the planet. That only suggests that we are each and all fully capable of being judges. To be sure, judging has been necessary for the survival of the human race. We have to judge activities or people or situations that are safe to our personal being and those that pose danger. We judge food, drink, health and lifestyle habits that are good for us or hazardous. We have to judge between candidates and leaders as to who best protects those things we hold dear. Perhaps a better word for "judging" in these situations is to be "discerning" in regards to personal safety and well-being. We are warned not to judge by appearance.
Once you get into ascribing motives, you get into tricky territory not unlike shifting sands or quicksand itself. A recent news blurb datelined Alabama caught my eye: "Some schools cancel event after warning." The story was that some 200 schools nationwide had canceled their participation in national Mix It Up at Lunch Day, sponsored annually - this year on Oct. 30 - by the Southern Poverty Law Center. On Mix It Up at Lunch Day, students are challenged to take a different seat in the school cafeteria than their usual ones with friends and to find someone different to sit next to and get to know.
SPLC was formed in 1971 by civil rights attorneys Morris Dees and Joseph Levin Jr. as a nonprofit devoted to fighting hate and intolerance through education and litigation. Eleven years ago, SPLC launched the Mix It Up at Lunch Day as an anti-bullying program for schools across the country. It is intended to promote understanding and acceptance among students and to encourage an inclusive and nurturing school environment, one that would not brook hate or intolerance that leads to bullying, now a nationally acknowledged societal problem. How often do we read of students who choose suicide over the daily bullying they endure at school?
So tell me who could claim to be against anti-bullying efforts? Let's start with the American Family Association, described in the news as a "conservative evangelical group." Its leader issued a warning to schools that this year's event was a "nationwide push to promote the homosexual lifestyle in the public schools." It advised parents to keep their children at home that day. Two hundred schools caved.
Results of a 2008 survey of thousands of participants showed: 95 percent said students interacted positively with students outside their normal circles; 92 percent said students later were more aware of social boundaries and divisions at school; 83 percent said students made new friends; and 79 percent said students had a heightened awareness of tolerance and social justice issues.
What can be dangerous about encouraging students to find something to like about someone else, to be more understanding of the differences in people or to make new friends? It would appear the American Family Association rendered judgment without discernment. Don't you think we need in this world a good bit more tolerance and acceptance of our differences and more awareness of the unfair burdens born by those who don't fit a stereotypical mold? We've just got to learn to get along here because there's no place else to run.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics.