Carrie Steckl earned her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology with a Minor in Gerontology from Indiana University – Bloomington in 2001. She has spent over ...Read More
A few days ago, I was shopping for Band-Aids at Wal-Mart when another patron swooped into the aisle and plucked a few bottles of hydrogen peroxide off the shelf. I assumed the person was a man, but when she turned around, I realized that the customer appeared to be transitioning from a man to a woman. We chatted about the use of hydrogen peroxide as a more frugal way to whiten teeth. I noticed that other patrons were looking rather warily at her. When we finished our conversation, she seemed to appreciate that someone actually spoke to her and treated her like a human being.
Now here’s a philosophical question: Did I condone this person’s choice to change genders by being kind to her?
I ask this because I recently read a very disturbing article in the Chicago Tribune about protests to an anti-bullying program called “Mix It Up at Lunch Day.” The program, created by the Southern Poverty Law Center and running successfully for the past 11 years, simply suggests that schools designate one day a year to encourage students to interact with someone new in the cafeteria or on the playground.
Sounds pretty innocuous, doesn’t it? Thousands of schools around the country agree. The program allows kids to get to know each other when they otherwise would probably stay glued to their cliques and immediate social circles. The idea is that meeting new kids helps develop social skills that allow children to get along with all kinds of people. Plus, it’s just cool to be kind.
But apparently not everyone feels that way. According to the article, some evangelical groups are discouraging schools to participate in Mix It Up at Lunch Day because they feel that it affirms homosexuality.
Huh? That’s right – the gripe is that encouraging kids to get to know other kids that might be different from them is the same as teaching them that homosexuality is morally okay. Oh, and also that moral disapproval is the same as bullying. Apparently the argument is convincing to some, because about 250 schools have since opted out of the program.
Let me ask you something. If you morally disapprove of something, does that make you a bully? I don’t think so. I think what matters is how you behave toward people in light of your moral disapproval. On the flip side, is being nice to someone the same as morally approving everything that person does? Again, I don’t think so. It’s possible – and in my opinion, recommended – to be kind to others even when we may not always agree with their actions.
Reacting with skepticism to a program that encourages people to be friendly to each other is ludicrous. In an age of political divisiveness and gridlock, creating problems where they don’t exist does not help our country move forward.
Regarding my fellow patron at Wal-Mart, it really doesn’t matter whether, internally, I condoned her choice to make a gender change. My kindness toward her did not reflect approval or disapproval – it simply reflected kindness, a value that I believe is shared by all major religions as well as secular humanists.
So please, smile at your neighbor. Talk to the person in front of you in the grocery check-out line. It won’t mean that you necessarily approve of that person’s actions or choices. It will simply mean that you’re cool, because you’re kind.