Well They Began It! …the hope and despair of intolerance…
I don’t pay much attention to politics. Most of it is far too confusing for me. How is a dog, who can’t master basic arithmetic, supposed to figure the costs and benefits of different tax plans? What’s the best policy on drug legalization? How much is the right amount to spend on defense, or education, or infrastructure? (And I’m just using that last word because I hear it occasionally – the closest I can come to understanding infrastructure is when I was play-fighting with my friend Kuma and we bashed into an old pipe so hard we cracked it open and water sprayed all over us and the yard for a couple of hours before Handsome saw it and shut it off!)
I’ve written before that I only care about two things in politics: I’m against anyone starting an unnecessary war, and I’m against unnecessary pollution. My reason is simple: I care a lot about kids, and I’m a dog, and those two things cruelly and horribly devastate kids and dogs. Please, defend your lives and property, and use the bounty of the Earth to better your lives; but if you’re killing children and pups for greed or power, I’m not going to support you.
But recently, I’m noticing something else, something that worries me. All over the world. People actually becoming less tolerant of others different from them. And treating them in ways they wouldn’t treat a dog (and I mean the ways people who don’t like dogs would treat dogs!).
I hear about how some countries are refusing to let people in, people there because they’re trying to escape murderers, and letting them drown in the ocean instead. Others are literally kicking people out because of where they were born, or where their grandparents were born.
And I’m ashamed to admit (and dogs normally don’t feel shame) that the government of my country recently started a policy of kidnapping children of families trying to get in, separating them from their parents, and then losing track of them, so they might never meet again – even keeping these children in cages in the meantime. It’s not like that isn’t against the law here; the problem is that the government is ordering the law-enforcers to break our own laws. It’s horrific.
One nice thing about being a dog is that we don’t remotely grasp or understand the reasons you humans treat each other this way. We’ll hear you guys say “Well they don’t speak our language,” or “they worship a different god,” or “they have different values.” Not one bit of which means a thing to us. People of every race and nationality and religion have treated dogs badly, and members of each of those groups have treated us well. The idea of saying everyone of a certain race or religion is good or bad is ridiculous to us.
And the craziest thing is, it’s ridiculous to you too! Every day, I see you people breaking through those boundaries, learning from each other, helping each other, loving each other. You know you can do it, and you know the world’s a better place when you do. So why in the world do you still accept this nonsense?!
Now don’t get me wrong. We dogs are just as guilty of prejudice as you guys. Maybe more so. I was attacked by a big dog with long black fur when I was a puppy, so I’m still scared any time I see a pooch that looks like that. And I have a real issue with men in uniforms, ever since I was picked up by a dog catcher and kept in a pound for days.
But would I say that big black furry dogs should be killed? Or that the guys who check our water and power meters should be kicked out of the state? Of course not! I just get scared or bark at them all – and that’s perfectly enough for me to feel good about myself!
The issue I’m getting at is called Intolerance. No one’s going to like everyone, and no one’s going to want to be besties with everyone. But we can tolerate the differences we don’t like in each other – and benefit from them. We HAVE to. (If I didn’t allow those meter-readers into our yard, we’d lose all our water. Even without Kuma and me smashing pipes!)
Now humans have been writing books and songs and plays and all about Intolerance forever (In fact, one of the first really big important movies ever was titled Intolerance, an amazing epic that shows examples of it being played out through history). But to me, the most beautiful and powerful statement anyone ever made on it was a stage musical that came out about sixty years ago, and the movie they made of it a few years later.
Most of you probably know the classic play Romeo and Juliet. Where a boy and a girl from rival families fall in love, and everything goes tragic? Well this tells kind of the same story, but set on the streets of New York city, in a gang war between boys whose families have lived there for years, and new immigrants from Puerto Rico. It’s called West Side Story, and if you haven’t seen it, or heard the music from it, you are in for a TREAT!
Handsome saw a production of it a couple of weeks ago, and came back and told me all about it. Oh sure, he was excited by a bunch of things I couldn’t relate to – the cool dancing, how good this person’s voice was, how they moved the set around. But then he played me the music, and I just swooned. It’s SOOO good! Exciting, fun, scary, and, when it gets romantic, just crazy-beautiful.
What hit him mainly was two things. First, that it’s really all about teenagers, and teen passions. You have probably noticed how most adults just don’t have the same intensity of feelings about things that teens have. That’s for a lot of reasons, including some biological ones. But you’ve probably also noticed that those passions can be both really great and really awful. You get more excited, pretty people are more beautiful, music is just amazing… but also your feelings get so hurt, you feel so alone, and you might lose control of your temper a bit more… And you might hate more. And love more.
Maybe there’s something other than West Side Story that does as good a job of expressing ALL those teen emotions, but I don’t know what it is. The excitement, the energy, the fury, the desire… You see, this is why I relate to you guys so well… We dogs live in the same glorious madness!
And just like dogs, teens can cause some trouble when there’s no control over those feelings. I like a fight as much as any dog, but I’m awfully glad no other pups have knives or guns – and I’m not crazy about the idea of teens carrying those around either (nor am I about anyone else having them, but I understand why they might be necessary in some cases).
But I sure am crazy about the way you guys love each other, and joke each other, and dance and get so excited about romance. It’s why I have such fun with your letters!
The other thing that Handsome pointed out was one tiny bit of one song. One gang sings “Well they began it!” And the other gang sings “Well they began it!” And then they both sing “And we’re the ones to end it once and for all!”
Have you studied enough history to get the irony of this? It NEVER WORKS. The Germans thought they’d “end it once and for all” in the 1940s, and nearly ended everyone everywhere. Today, on so many borders, we see countries arguing “Well they began it” about other people – about arguments that “they began” so many centuries ago that NO ONE knows who began what when!
This might be the stupidest thing about the human race, this “Well they began it” idea. When I see five-year-olds screaming it on a playground, it at least makes sense for their age. When I see adults do it, I bury my head in my paws and whine at how pathetic it sounds.
The point of the show, just like Romeo and every other story along these lines, is that in all the despair, there’s always hope. And the hope comes from Love.
Not just the romantic, sexy love two teenagers might have for each other. But love for humanity. Love for a person you haven’t met yet. And love for every person you might not like now, but you know they have qualities you’d love if you got to know them better. Yes that’s EVERY person.
When I meet a human, I usually go up to them and lick their hand. That does two things. First it tells them I’m a loving dog, and they don’t need to fear me. But also it lets me taste them, and that tells me a lot – about their mood, about where they’ve been… and about whether they have any pizza!
I wish you guys could learn to do that. Even if you don’t literally lick each other, just to consider each of you astounding seven billion as someone interesting and valuable. As someone you could love, who could love you. Because that’s the truth.
If that could happen, the world could become, in the words of one of the show’s prettiest songs, “One Hand, One Heart.” But till then, I will live in hope that it’s possible. To quote another tune, it’s possible that “Something’s coming, I don’t know what it is, but it is gonna be great.”
“The air is humming. And something great is coming.”
If we all let it.