Around this time of year you see bright red poppies sprouting in lapels around the world. They symbolize the poppies that grew on the fields of Flanders after the guns fell silent at the end of World War One. We wear them to honor and remember the fallen in all wars and we do this in the days running up to the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. We listen to our radios and hear Big Ben strike 11 o’clock and after the 11th chime we hold two minutes of silence: we stop everything we are doing and we remember. Though now really a ritual continued just in the Commonwealth countries it was once the practice to wear poppies here in the United States on Memorial Day rather than Veterans Day.
When Americans of a certain age see people wearing poppies at this time of year they do remember them and most say they would like to see them come back. I had such an experience today while visiting a customer.
My colleague asked, as the meeting was winding down, what was the significance of the flower in my jacket and I told him about the poppies the Commonwealth veterans assemble and distribute for donations to support the all too many necessary charities that take care of our returning soldiers and that take care of the graves of those who do not return.
Our host, our customer, remembered a time when his father wore a poppy, when he was about 10 years old, and commented that perhaps it was time America returned to doing this.
But then the meeting changed considerably as our host went on to describe why today’s America needs to get back to wearing poppies.
He said “This country has been going downhill ever since 9/11. We are surrounded by people whose religion teaches hatred and who are determined to kill Americans.” I was dumb struck. How does one tell our customer he is bigoted and ill-informed? I tried to keep on point and commented that the poppy reminds us that if we do not study history we are bound to repeat it. Hoping he would see the similarity between his anti-Islam-ism of today and antisemitism of 70 years ago.
The odd thing about this was that this was the third example of the day where bigotry was alive and well and at the very surface of our society.
My day started having breakfast in the club room of my hotel. The local news was on TV and as I sat down the segment was about a young woman who had been asked to leave the Mall because she was being too affectionate with her partner sitting outside the Mall on a park bench. They were holding hands and being loving as couples often are sitting in the sun enjoying a day out on a beautiful summer afternoon. Mall security asked them to leave stating “nobody wants to see that here”. And the “that” that nobody wanted to see was the fact that this woman’s partner was also a woman.
And as I opened my newspaper I read that a local firm was being sued because they had a policy of laying off women once they got to 30 because they would have to give them supervisory and management jobs that needed to go to men. In this day and age: really?
Racism, homophobia and sexism all before 10:00 am.
I spoke to friends about this and they reminded me that there was a time not so long ago when schools were separate-but-equal, when police forces were openly homophobic and when sexual harassment wasn’t a crime.
I wonder what our children will say about us? Are we any more enlightened that our parents? What reparations will our children have to make for our behaviors?
We must be constantly vigilant and challenge every preconception we have about our society. We must never rest while ever there are bigots and ill-informed individuals who openly share their frightening beliefs.
I spent the weekend refereeing an international field hockey tournament. One of the teams was from Bermuda and their 16 players were from 5 different countries. The team from Florida had players from 12 countries. When race, gender, national origin, sexual orientation are meaningless questions perhaps we will have made progress.
Maybe we need a different day of remembrance? “Remember when there were those who believed that Jews were less than human? Remember when slavery was accepted? Remember when religion was accepted as long as it was “MY RELIGION”? Remember when separate but equal was okay?” “Today we honor remember those who have died fighting and defending these freedoms and beliefs…”
If we change our thinking, then maybe, just maybe one day we’ll hear a future generation ask “What do the words bigotry and prejudice mean?”