Wednesday, August 27, 2014
We all know what a “discount store” is, and what items marked “at a discount” are. In a word, the items being sold there are “cheaper,” marked at a lower price than that found in other stores or on other days. They’re “on sale.” But we also all know or perceive something else: they are inferior.
When we see items “discounted,” we assume they are “cheaper” in price for a reason. We assume the quality or desirability of the item has somehow justified the lower price. “Well, with that crazy color, no wonder no one wanted to buy those shirts at the original price.” “Well, look at the size of that pile! Just how many spare tire jacks do they think a person needs?!” Or, “Well, you shouldn’t buy those canned goods; they’re all dented.” The fact that some discounted items are marked “as is” just re-enforces our perceptions that discounted items are defective in some way.
But despite our perceptions, some discounted items are not defective in any way. They’re just different. Sometimes they’re different in the manufacturing process; a more efficient process enables lower prices. Horseless carriages were once discounted as were wireless phones. Because they were not correctly perceived, they were thought inferior. Electric cars are discounted and subsidized today; perhaps someday they will be looked at as a bargain or a necessity.
People also are often discounted in our perceptions of them, and of their value. Most often we use the word “just” to voice our perceptions. “They’re just slaves; they’re just Irish;” or, “they’re just Jews” are words from our history. Our perceptions of those groups of people have changed over time, but other perceptions of people, people who we discount, persist.
“They’re just kids; it’s just an embryo; they’re just old people,” are not uncommon words today. This morning’s scheduled mass was cancelled as the priest had a last minute emergency to attend to, and so a communion service was held, presided over by “just a deacon.” That’s what I thought, as he walked out onto the altar. What I didn’t think about were the years that man studied in preparation to become a deacon, nor the hours or days he made himself available --- often at the last minute --- to serve people like me, “just” me. And that, I now perceive, is the crux of the matter: while we discount some people as being “just this” or “just that,” thinking of them as in some way inferior or defective compared to ourselves, we never discount ourselves. I am never “just me.” This is a problem we all have.
It’s called “pride.”
The slaves, the Irish, and the Jews were thought defective or inferior by people of pride, who thought themselves better. When you put yourself on a pedestal, everyone is below you.
I’ve meditated on this subject in the past, about how few of us think of ourselves as evil, or even as sinners. “We are good people who want only good things,” we think. I’ve sure the good Christians at the time of slavery, or of mass immigration, or of the concentration camps felt the same. “We’re good, and they … well, they’re defective in some way. They are worth less.” And we don’t want things, or people, that are worthless. After all, “We have our pride!”
We look back at slaves and other discounted humans and think we are past such misconceptions of the value of human beings. We are wrong. If we look to the root cause, pride, we must concede it has not been eliminated in this world, and in fact it has been elevated from the number one vice to the number one virtue in our society.
Everything is about “you” in our society. “You” have rights; “you” deserve this, and “you” are important. And with the constant re-enforcement of society, we come to perceive that compared to others we ARE better, and so what we want is better. And those other people? Somehow, they are defective, and we can discount them, and their ideas.
As long as pride exists --- and it will always exist in man --- there will be a tendency to see ourselves as better than others. And as long as Christianity exists, Pride will be labeled a sin, and Charity --- true love of neighbor --- a virtue. Jesus came to earth to show us how to love our neighbor, every human being. As a God on earth, He still said all men are created equal in His eyes, none discounted versus another, none defective.
And so as long as Christianity exists in our hearts, will we avoid thinking: they’re “just” Democrats, or Republicans, or liberals, or conservatives? And will others avoid thinking: they’re “just” Christians?