For years we talked about the ‘me” generation. And maybe we never graduated from this word. Robert Parham, Director for the Baptist Center for Ethics spoke of the current immigration struggle. He said we ought to drop the “I” word from this debate. He was referring to the word illegal which we have heard far too often. I think his suggestion is right. Two years ago, God bless them, the United Methodist Church dropped the ‘I’ word in a national campaign calling for the elimination of this word while discussing immigration. I understand that the Associated Press has already put this word to rest.
Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor has said that the word, illegal is the first step to the gas chambers. He is right. If we can demonize another—put emotional distance between us and them—we can see them as objects and not subjects. But it seems to me that we ought to drop the ‘I-word’ on a whole cadre of issues today. Demonization is not limited to immigration.
Funny how politicians use the ‘I’ word all the time while discussing bones of contention. To Gay rights they say: We have to defend our marriages. What will happen to our families if we give in on this issue? Those keeping an anxious pulse on their constituencies—scared of losing the 2014 elections—are using the ‘I’ word more and more. And if they aren’t using this word—it is just beneath the surface of all their protestations. Sadly they are wise enough to know where their bread is buttered—like a mirror they simply reflect their constituency. Most of us are pretty wedded to I and me and mine.
Point in any direction and it looks like the 'I's" have it. What could be more appalling than those parents from Newtown, their grief fresh from December as if it were yesterday listening to our leaders in Washington? These parents and relatives must be dumbfounded. What do they hear? Nobody can take our guns away. We can’t make any ruling on guns—we need our guns—even at church, even at football games, even in dormitories. Guns don’t kill people—people do.
Many scream against Obamacare (I hate this word) because it will hurt our interests. Why our policy rates are going to go up. What about all those 45 million plus who have no health care whatsoever? Never a word is said about them. In South Carolina our state has refused the federal government’s aid that health care would provide for those 389,000 not covered in our state. Nobody mentions these—we just hear worries about how the state cannot afford to pick up the 20% we will have to begin to pay in three years.
In just about every issue we bump into the I word. Take taxes to the stalled economy that the politicians keep blocking. They keep saying us and our. What about the common good—us and not just I. On our recent river cruise in France we ate dinner with a couple from Canada. He was a fine lawyer and talked about how everyone in Canada had health care and wondered why, with so many religious people in this country, there was not more concern from the churches about all these people not covered by insurance. It was a question we could not answer except to say you can be religious and selfish at the same time. We have forgotten that Jesus said that we save our lives when we lose our lives.
Watch the pronouns. The I’s are everywhere. There are so many wonderful things about our country—but we still have a hard time with this liberty and justice for all. Maybe we ought to change the words to read: liberty and justice for me and mine. We still have a lot of work to do. Developmentally as infants we all begin with this wonderful discovery of who we are. Our hands, our voices, our hungers. The lesson of identity is primary. But to stay at this elemental level is to cut ourselves off from the wonders of the myriad of relationships that God intended for us all. The opening chapters in the Bible say: “It is not good for man to be alone.”
Mr. Parham, Director of the Center of Ethics is on to something by shining the spotlight on this little word, I. Under the spotlight, with all the problems around us, the word shrivels in size even more.