I remember a time long ago when something really mattered to me. I grew up with a happy childhood. My parents took me and my brothers to church every time the doors were open. The thing was that at the end of the service on Sunday mornings, the elementary school age boys were called to pick up the attendance cards that adults had been issued.
No big deal, right? I just didn’t get it, though, why my younger brothers and their friends got to be the picker-uppers, but me and my friends did not. At the end of the service, there was a traditional call: “young men, please pick up the attendance cards.” And everyone would pass the cards down to the isles and the young men would make their way up and down the aisles to pick up the cards.
“Why,” I asked my parents, “why can’t us girls pick up the attendance cards, too?” And they just knew it wasn’t traditional, but no one seemed to know why it wasn’t allowed. It may seem a small thing, but it mattered to me, and, well, I was more than miffed about it.
I guess since then, I’ve been asking why about everything…to the point that it certainly got on other people’s nerves. It’s not always a popular thing to ask why we do the things we do. Any of you out there who can relate to being a child with a lot of questions?
Poet Rainier Maria Rilke urge us to“ask the questions,”saying,
“maybe one day, without knowing it, you will live along some distant day unto the answer.”
Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own is about questions. In the mid-1900s, Woolf, too, wonders why things are the way they are. In fact, she writes that she has a thousand questions. Why are women not allowed formal education? Why are women not allowed the right to vote or to own land? What if Shakespeare had a sister; would she have the same opportunity to write?
I wonder where we would be today without those who stood strong and asked those unpopular questions? Blind conformity is a refusal to ask questions and to think independently, and the results of blind conformity are evident in some of the most atrocious events in history.
How could so many millions of people been extinguished under Hitler’s reign of terror? How could Hitler’s racially motivated ideology turn into such a tragedy? He and his followers deemed millions of Jews and other victims as “untermenschen” (sub-human).
The famous Milgram Experiment and its shocking results indicate how often we tend to blindly follow others, to do as someone else tells us to do, to think as someone else tells us to think. GroupThink. Conformity. Unwillingness to challenge the rules, the status quo.
We can look back in history and see how it happened again and again and again. We see it in British colonialism and the mistreatment of indigenous people. We see it in the mistreatment of native Americans in the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which forced relocations of Native American in the U.S. from their ancestral homelands. The relocated people suffered from exposure, disease, and starvation while in route to their new designated reserve, and many died before reaching their destination.
The Civil War officially abolished slavery, but it didn’t end discrimination. In the mid-60s during the Civil Rights movement, my parents were in Alabama working on masters degrees. One of the things I remember most is hearing the marches in the evening, people standing up against discrimination.
And yet today, there are many issues that speak of discrimination. One’s vote does indeed matter. Do not be silent. All we have to do is take a glance at history to see how hierarchies have been established and how people have denigrated another group of people and made them sub-human. And when we establish a hierarchy, someone is always underneath.