This weekend I visited my 94-year-old grandparents (but you didn’t hear their age from me). They are both amazing–still living in the house my mother grew up in, my grandmother cooks and cleans (lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs) and my grandfather takes walks and swims after a quadruple bypass 8 years ago. Both still drive, both have amazing memories of names of people, places and events from over seventy years ago. And both grew up in a time very different from today–at least in terms of social norms.
So, needless to say, I was taken by surprise when during the visit, my grandfather asked me how I felt about gay marriage. Anyone who’s met Harry knows he’s made some comments that only a 90+ year old could get away with these days, so what was even more surprising about his question was that he was genuinely interested in what I thought. He wasn’t bringing it up to start an argument, but seemingly to get a new perspective in order to see all sides.
I told him what I thought–that any couple who loves each other and is committed each other should be able to get married, no matter their gender. When he asked, “But what about the children being raised by gay parents?” I responded that, in my opinion, a home with two loving parents is better than one where the parents are constantly fighting and creating a toxic environment–regardless of gender. Not to mention the numerous financial and legal benefits that come with marriage that many same-sex couples haven’t had access to.
I heard his side too: That it was something he was never exposed to (that he was aware of) for most of his life, so it certainly wasn’t part of his social norms. Furthermore, he worried about the children of homosexual couples and if they would be affected (having had a difficult upbringing himself, he is always worried about children in any situation). For the most part, he told me with a thoughtful expression that he “just couldn’t wrap his brain around it.”
In the end, I’m pretty sure I didn’t change my grandfather’s mind on the issue, but that wasn’t my goal, nor was it what I took from our conversation. Rather, it was really refreshing to have a civil conversation about this controversial issue. In a time where people post their opinions on issues and current events in social media (such as…what I am doing in this blog…) the art of lively, face to face conversation, the exchange of opinions, and debate has become a rarity. Instead, it is replaced by “likes,” retweets, and short comments that may or may not support the posted opinion. In this forum, you don’t really have to listen, tone can be misinterpreted, judgements made, and debates can escalate to arguments or end abruptly in silence.
In yoga, we practice non-judgement: of ourselves, our yoga practice, and others. Of course, the key word there is practice, and that effort can make a huge difference in our outlook on ourselves, others, and the world as a whole. When it comes to issues like gay marriage, those who disagree with it can lose sight of the fact that the decisions surrounding it affect real, live people. If those on the opposing side of an issue really stopped to see the full picture, and even ask questions like my grandfather, they may just find that the people they are judging are not so different from them. Take Ellen Degeneres, for example. This week on her show, Ellen responded to critics of her JC Penny partnership (who are against it simply because she is gay) by saying, “I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.” That sure sounds like someone I would want representing my company, doesn’t it?
This week brought great news to gay marriage supporters in California and Washington, with Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional and the gay marriage bill being passed, respectively. As support continues to grow, I hope that more conversations happen, whether face to face or via media, which foster genuine interest in differing perspectives and debate without judgement. Total agreement on every issue is not what our country needs; practicing those traditional values that Ellen talked about–equality, kindness and the Golden Rule–is what will truly bring people together. My relationship with my grandfather is proof of that.