How far should inclusion go?

Key to accepting differences is understanding that's just the way it is

Posted: Sunday, November 18, 2001

If you are easily offended, please stop reading now. For those of you who may be reading this who have thin skin, faint hearts or fragile egos, go on to another page. This shouldn't bother you, but one can never be too certain. So, just skip this column altogether.

Several weeks ago, I was listening to a talk show on National Public Radio and heard a guy talking about how the mere mention of anything related to Christianity was offensive to him. He believed that it was his God-given right to block any such talk from entering his ears at all costs.

So, if he should overhear somebody having a conversation about Jesus Christ, no matter where he was, he would immediately cup is hands to his ears and begin loudly chanting, "Ma, ma, ma, ma ... ," the way a child would who wants to drown out another child's words. The gentleman seemed to believe that any utterance of such religious talk -- even someone saying, "God bless you," after a sneeze -- is a violation of his right to not have to be exposed any religious beliefs.

Silly, isn't it? This is an extreme case. But it can be applied to our community.

In a recent conversation with Soldotna Mayor Dave Carey, I learned that a plan to decorate Parker Park with holiday trimmings representing religious, cultural or familial ties had to be pared down to only patriotic decorations.

Carey had given assignments to his students at Skyview High School to design ornaments from different aspects of their background, beliefs or interests. He said all religions were acceptable, but stipulated that he would not allow any representation of Satanism.

A student contested this rule, and after some legal consultation, Carey said he relented to the current incarnation of the park decorations.

Carey said he learned that the city of Soldotna could run the risk of facing legal action by excluding a specific corner of the population from participating in the planned event. When faced with the all-or-nothing choice between including most or excluding all, Carey chose the latter, going with a common theme of patriotism.

In my humble opinion, Carey chose wisely.

My concern is about the need to have to please all of the people all of the time. Carey himself said singling out one group is wrong, and I agree with him.

But how far will our society progress in the effort to embrace inclusion? Where is that line between inclusion and intrusion, and when do the two begin to blur the line?

Isn't it possible for someone who doesn't celebrate Christmas to decide he or she is upset about not being included in all the festivities? It has happened to many Christmas office parties across the country.

So, what happens when a person who

doesn't believe in Christmas decides that he or she shouldn't have to see the holiday ornaments put up all around town? Or when a homosexual believes he or she has had about enough of heterosexual relationships portrayed in the majority of the media's offerings? Or when a group of white males decide that the Native Alaskans around town are so intolerable that they should be pelted with paint balls at random?

I know, just like with the first story, the popular response could be "just get over it." But there are some who are reading this that may think along the lines of the ideas I just presented.

So who's wrong?

What spares us from such extremes as the case of the gentleman on NPR or the other scenarios listed above is understanding -- an understanding that, regardless of where we go or what we do, somebody is not going to believe what we believe.

Just because someone is different, doesn't mean that difference, be it spiritual, cultural, philosophical or physical, is going to burgeon all around us.

That does not mean anyone has to like that difference. Just accept it.

So maybe Soldotna is correct to avoid excluding representations of Satan worship from holiday rituals.

But, then again, maybe disciples of the Satan should just be comfortable with the choice they made to be different and suck it up.

And our friend from NPR? Maybe he just needs a hug.

Marcus K. Garner is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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