Recently, Britain has taken another step toward accepting homosexuals as citizens with a right (and a duty) to participate as other citizens do. A gay man will be allowed to donate blood, as long as he has not had sex with another man for one year. The move is sensible, since this restriction will generate no significant danger as compared to the current lifetime ban - meaning that any act of man-to-man sex ever renders one ineligible.
"Britain's Advisory Committee on the Safety of Blood calculated that, with a lifetime ban, the theoretical risk of a unit of tainted blood slipping through was one in 4.41 million; with a one-year deferral period, the risk would be one in 4.38 million, which is almost identical."
While it is hard to argue with facts - e.g., that of certain groups posing higher risks of infection - one may still question the motives of many Britons (North Americans and Europeans too) opposed to such changes. Gays will still be restricted - in ways that I, personally, do not support - yet which can at least be justified. So why the fuss? Why do many oppose a move that will increase the supply of much needed blood to a degree that certainly outweighs any related harm?
Try: they might not like gays, and some may even be averse to having "homo blood" in their systems. Though my direct fight is on behalf of those with substance addictions, it really is the same fight, isn't it? One big fight to end all such fights, in the belief that there will come a day when humanity treats all of its members - its sons, daughters, brothers and sisters - with respect and compassion.
I recall as an undergrad reading Karl Marx who said that all women must be liberated, even the ugly ones. No matter how crass, the political agitator's comment contains a lesson. In making decisions about inclusion and equity, one's own distaste for a person - be it their lifestyle, appearance, or even their very existence - ought to be left aside. During the Enlightenment, Rousseau helped to educate western culture in such matters. In a nutshell, Rousseau did not expect people to be perfect. So, sure, everybody doesn't like somebody. But when acting as a citizen - voting, running for office, or in some other capacity - one should leave personal baggage aside and participate in something greater.
I also recall some twenty-five years ago, drinking myself blind with a Jewish friend who told me of his support for the political left. I asked him to explain his reasons and, being completely drunk and perfectly honest, he informed that it's like this: he doesn't like blacks, but still believes that they should get the same opportunities as anyone else. For this young intellectual, that was an eye-opener: someone can be prejudiced, yet rise above it and do what's right! In fairness, my drinking companion was both young and drunk, and at a time when relations between African and Jewish communities across North America were much more strained than they are today (and there's still some tension). Living as we do in an increasingly multicultural world, there is bound to be friction among certain groups, and with reasons too numerous to list.
When confronted by a stubborn reality - that we are unlikely to create a world free of prejudice anytime soon - I often think back to that drunken episode. Then I think of Rousseau. I guess we all have prejudices, and I'm just as fallible and imperfect as anyone else. That need not prevent me, or you, from thinking clearly, rising above, and acting ethically when it counts.
Applied universally, the Enlightenment attitude could make for a fine world - as I see it anyway. We would act properly as citizens, yet when that duty has been met, those who wish would be free to go home, drink beer, yell at the TV, and express their silliest and strangest sentiments without repercussion.
It may not be an ideal picture, but it would indeed make room for all types. No one would be shut out, and everyone could feel that they belong.
Here's one way to look at it. Over twenty years ago I read about a survey indicating that most people in China agreed with the following statement: "Foreigners cannot be trusted". Of interest was this: apparently, to most Chinese at the time, "foreigner" simply meant anyone not from one's village. Since then, China has certainly grown and changed. But such parochial attitudes have been the norm for most of human history.
Here is one more way to look at it. I once judged people harshly if they occupied themselves with celebrities' sex lives and such stuff. Over time, it did occur to me that when I see twenty or more men playing football or hockey on TV, I might really care about who will win - even though I've never even met any of those guys. If I can care about that, why shouldn't someone else care about whom Britney had sex with or why she gained weight?
What say we just treat each other right, and let the rest take care of itself?
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