I often wonder why we Americans, claiming to value individuality, are so heavily invested in making others think just as we do.
This concept struck me forcibly once, years ago, when a supervisor at the office was polling female staff members on what he should get his wife for their anniversary. He was thinking roses. But he wasn’t certain that would be impressive enough.
“Does she have a favorite color of rose?” I queried him. “White, for instance, or something unusual, like Tropicana? Or even another favorite flower. Lilies, orchids? Something that smells magnificent, like lilac or lavender? That might make flowers a more special gesture than just the same old red roses.” I could tell by his face that the question of rose color or even other favorite flowers had never entered his mind. He stood, mulling it over, when another coworker jumped in, exclaiming, “Oh, no, no! Red roses! You have to get red roses! Only red roses are right.”
“I like pink, myself,” I commented, “but these aren’t my roses. What does your wife like best?” I persisted to our supervisor. He wrinkled his brow and ambled off into his office to consider the question. I never learned exactly what flowers his wife eventually received. But my coworker could not let the subject go. Determined to convince me, she perched on the edge of her seat and held forth at length about the perfection of a gift of long-stemmed red roses. “There’s just something about a red rose….” she concluded, sighing, with a dreamy expression on her face. Unconvinced and unimpressed, I shrugged and responded, “For you, that’s the right gift. But his wife might like something else best. Me, I’d adore pink roses mixed with lilac or lavender. Those would be flowers worth having. They’d mean something.”
My coworker rolled her eyes, and I dropped the subject, at least verbally. But the question continued to swirl in my mine. Why, I wondered, couldn’t she just understand that there were other viewpoints than hers? That my preference for pink roses, or his wife’s potentially different favorite flowers, were equally valid?
Yet there I sat, totally dismissive of her point of view, and just as determined as she that my own opinion was the correct one.
But that realization didn’t occur to me until much later.
This conversation was just one tiny blip in the annals of humans doing their utmost to convince other humans to think “just like me”. Extrapolated to further degrees, our attempts to force others into our mold include innocuous things such as debates, or all the way to the unspeakable atrocity of ethnic “cleansings”. We welcome others into our country only if they dissolve into a “melting pot”. We claim to be open-minded, but strike people from our lives because they chose a different faith or no faith at all – or because of their skin color – or background and culture –or country of origin – or political party — or sexual orientation. We insist that our is “the one true faith”—or assert that faith itself is the cause of all the world’s ills. We bandy about titles like “conservative” or “liberal” as though they were obscenities rather than points of view. We claim to appreciate individuality, yet clearly despise those who choose to live an individual life, bounded only by their own understanding of the way in which life works.
Will we ever simply accept our individuality, or, even more unlikely, even rejoice in it? Is it possible that we will ever come to true appreciation of each other’s differences, be they spiritual, physical, mental or emotional? That we might someday allow each other to appreciate all roses, red or yellow, pink or white?
I wonder, and, sadly, I look at the state of humanity, and I doubt.
But I still prefer pink roses.