The moral high ground is a beautiful thing isn’t it? There’s nothing people love more than flaunting how opened minded they are. It’s easier to highlight the bad in people, it’s the first thing we notice, but recognising the good in someone who’s violating our standards is difficult. It requires maturity.
I was taking a tram ride through Melbourne, the passengers on board represented various ethnic backgrounds. A lucky dip of foreign languages with English nowhere to be heard. During the trip, an elderly Caucasian Australian women equipped with a piercing Pauline Hasonesque seagull chirping aussie accent hawkishly asked me “are you speaking english? No one on here speaks english.” She was the type of person you find working in football canteens, yelling at under 9s kids for eating with their mouth open. She was agitated, offensive and racially insensitive. Doubtful she was the kind of person who spent her leisure time reading Voltaire and keeping up with Middle Eastern Geopolitics.
She was a young University student’s worst nightmare, evil personified. The type of antiqued racist BuzzFeed has been telling them about. Inevitably, some pompous young women took it upon herself to shout the old lasy down, virtue signaling for all to see. The young woman wasn’t necessarily wrong – overall the passengers were largely international students or backpackers, likely conversing in their first language for functional purposes.
The problem with the girl’s sanctimonious tirade wasn’t the content, but the intention. She completely belittled the old woman, turning her into a soulless racist. The girl’s motive was to inflict harm and dehumanise. I read the situation differently. Seeing an elderly lady who obviously hadn’t been to Melbourne recently (before the multiculturalism boom), a lady who isn’t articulate, but irrelevant, destitute of wealth, descendant from war veterans, divorced, alone, fundamentally unhappy and fearful of the direction of her life.
This old woman is a relic, nothing but her memories. When she was young and attractive, her father taking her into Melbourne to the cinemas, when she had friends, when people cared about her, when she we walk down the street knowing everyone, looking similar and speaking the same language. She knew where she belonged. Cheerful recollections of the good ol days.
Fast forward 50 years and the fountain of youth is drained, she’s alone, her generation becoming obsolete, Amnesia kicking in. She looks around and sees a world vastly different. Her memories are fading like the world her youth encumbered. The unknown is prompting angst. Ignorance isn’t always bliss.
Fear was the overriding factor here. Where does this old lady belong? Nowhere. She’s simply going through the motions until Father Time draws her name. This was just a fearful old lady without a home, expressing her anger ineloquently, far from physically threatening. Portraying her as the scum of the earth isn’t progressive, it’s regressive. Compassion must win. This was merely a worried pensioner fading into obscurity, yearning for the joy of yesteryear.
Condoning hatred isn’t right, but combating intolerance with self-righteous rants and demeaning simple minded people isn’t proper either. All the old woman needed was for someone to communicate with her, to educate her on how people who look different are nothing to fear. Remember, she probably didn’t see a brown person until she was 30.
Bringing about tolerance can’t be just an opportunity for people assert their superiority. Finding the true emotion behind an individual’s behaviour is essential to understanding and breaking down barriers, forming a cordial co-existence. Fighting intolerance with intolerance isn’t beneficial. Old fashioned communication would of easily placated this woman, and possibly opened her eyes a little bit, or possibly not, either way, abusing someone doesn’t make all the different from the person you’re claiming to dislike.