Equality is about civility and how we should treat one another

December 10, 2010 

This is my final column as a member of The Olympian's Diversity Panel, and what an experience it has been. Sharing my thoughts on issues for which I have strong convictions is an opportunity that a wordy and opinionated person, like me, can only dream of.

In this process, I have learned that I am not the only one with a penchant for being outspoken. Online posters and readers at the ready with e-mail demonstrated an unwavering commitment to setting the record straight in an effort to set me straight. While some comments were affirming and supportive, the vast majority of them were not.

I would be less than honest if I didn’t say some of these comments were hurtful — to be addressed as “Uncle Shawn” or likening my viewpoints to “cancer” in this society was something that I was not expecting when I agreed to write this column.

Perhaps my surprise at the verbosity of some comes from an intrinsic naiveté. Ironically, even though I work in civil rights and social justice every day and see firsthand those who are denied equality, I still believe that our culture, as a whole, embraces and fosters it.

I also believe that for all of our progress and for all the dreams that have been realized, hope for equality still remains elusive for some. An ideal turned into a political catchphrase hasn’t made a difference. Laws mandating equal treatment still remain words without tangible results that fully legitimize their existence.

This reality stands in stark contrast to the very thing that equality itself demands – that we nurture it by allowing its evolutionary nature to propel it and its ideals forward.

Some oversimplify our lack of progress toward equality as simply a difference of opinion, while others are more theatrical in their thinking and conjure up tales of conspiracies by the rich and powerful elite to oppress.

Between these two extremes, I find myself somewhere strapped in the middle with increasing consternation as to how political ideology or affiliation has inserted itself into something which I unashamedly believe transcends partisan rancor.

Both sides have uniformly cast the other as villains in an attempt to corner the market on their own version of morality which ultimately finds equality as one of its tenets. When this happens the seeming clarity of these ideals is lost leaving behind an environment where discrimination and intolerance thrive. Even more astounding, some have the audacity to believe such societal maladies don’t exist.

For me, equality isn’t political; it’s about civility and how we should treat one another. It’s about sharing what we’ve been blessed with, without worry as to whether doing so will leave us with less. It’s also about acknowledging and honoring that which makes us different, all while embracing those things that bring us closer.

You needn’t be a scholar or politician to live this out — just a good neighbor. And along the way, you also need to find a way to silence the sea of talking heads and embrace the vitally simple things you were likely taught as a 5-year-old.

Are these ideas naive and oversimplified?

I am proud to say “yes.” After all, I am absolutely convinced that John Lennon was spot on in his song, “Imagine,” when he sang: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”

As for me, I hope to never wake from the dream of equality until the world, or at least my backyard, is one.

Shawn Murinko, who works for the state of Washington as an ADA compliance officer, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. Murinko, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, can be reached at smurinko@comcast.net.

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