There are two topics you are never supposed to discuss because they usually lead to arguments: politics and religion. Although I graduated in political science on my way to law school, I became disillusioned with politics many years ago. I currently believe that, regardless of which party’s candidate is elected president, nothing will ever change much because both parties are hell-bent in defeating the agenda of the opposition by standing on “principle.” Religion is often the same. Regardless of your faith (or lack thereof), each of us is convinced that our way is the right way, and no amount of logic, reasoning or arguing the “truth” will convince us otherwise. And so we create litmus tests and draw lines in the sand regarding our truths, and warn others not to fail that test or cross that line if they want to be “one of us.”
The movie, Sophie’s Choice*, came out in 1982. I can’t remember much about the movie, other than Sophie, played by Meryl Streep, is a troubled woman. The one scene I will always remember, though, is near the end of the film when we learn why Sophie is so troubled. Sent to a Jewish concentration camp, she is required by a guard to pick which of her two children will be spared and which one must go to the gas chamber. If she refuses to pick one, the guard threatens to send both of her children to their deaths. So Sophie chooses her son over her daughter. Few scenes in any movie are more gut-wrenching than hearing Sophie’s little girl scream and call for her mother as the guards carry her away to her death. Here is the scene:
While not as dramatic as being held prisoner at gunpoint, do we sometimes put others in the position of having to make a Sophie’s choice? Sadly, many a family member or friend has been cast out because of religious or political beliefs, as we force them to sacrifice their principles or beliefs for inclusion in the group, or to sacrifice being part of the group to maintain their beliefs. I am all for principle, and standing up for what you believe. But that does not mean we cannot listen to, understand, and most importantly, respect the principles and positions of others. If we are going to fight for principle, let that principle be that everyone has the right to their own opinions and beliefs and should be respected for them, whether we agree with them or not.
Recently I have enjoyed listening to the music from the Broadway musical, Hamilton (since it is all but impossible to actually see it without taking out a mortgage to pay for overpriced tickets). One theme that has impressed me about Hamilton is how much our beloved Founding Fathers disagreed, argued, and yes, even fought with each other. But without giving up their principles and beliefs, they found a way to form a constitution and make a government work. The Founding Fathers developed the art of compromise: the process of giving and taking, changing and adjusting. They remained principled, yet practical. In fact, anyone who knows much about U.S. history acknowledges that the U.S. Constitution is largely the result of a series of compromises.
Perhaps I am too idealistic to think that people today could effectively compromise when it comes to politics and religion (or just about any other topic). But we can avoid putting people in positions where they must make a Sophie’s choice. Let’s not lose a friend or a family member because he or she is Republican, Democrat, Socialist or Libertarian, or Catholic, born-again Christian, Mormon, Jew or atheist, or even because of one’s sexual preference.
It all starts with tolerance. That word sometimes has a negative connotation, as it implies that we are right and the person we tolerate is wrong. But I think tolerance includes respect. Tolerance (and respect} leads to listening, which leads to understanding, which ultimately leads to love.
I believe we can learn to truly love and respect the “sinner” without loving the “sin.” By doing so, there will be a lot less Sophie’s choices being made.
Production: Incorporated Television Company; Keith Barish Productions
Directed: Alan J. Pakula
Screenplay: William Styron and Alan J. Pakula
Starring: Meryl Streep; Kevin Kline; and Peter McNichol