For more than two years now, I’ve spent the first hour or so of my Wednesday morning putting the final touches on this, my weekly column for The Evening Sun, quite possibly my favorite assignment here in the newsroom. And looking back through my personal archive of weekly opinion pieces, I found several concepts cropping up again and again, namely common sense and its arch rival, the dangerous and increasingly prevalent ignorance.
What I didn’t find, however (and a big thanks goes out to Clint Eastwood ... I’ll explain later), was much on tolerance, which, when you think about it, is simply one more problem facing this country, and one that ties in remarkably well with the aforementioned common sense and ignorance. All three concepts are either lacking here in America, common sense and tolerance, obviously, or on the rise ... ignorance, of course.
As for Clint Eastwood’s involvement, well ... that goes back to Monday evening and a late night viewing of “Gran Torino,” by far one of my favorite Clint films, and one that he both directed and starred in. And before I go on, a quick shout-out to readers ... if you haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and grab a copy; by far one of the most underrated motion pictures produced in the last decade and amazing in that it outlines so honestly the idea of tolerance (or lack thereof) in America today.
To keep a long story short, Eastwood, portraying old-school Korean War veteran Walt Kowalski, has recently lost his wife; has two sons (married with their own families) who could care less about the old man; and continues to live in the neighborhood where he raised his family, even as it’s been inhabited by Hmong Americans, many of whom sought safety in America following the United States’ withdrawal from Vietnam.
Throughout the film, we see Mr. Kowalski turn over a new leaf, shedding his grumpy old man persona even as he begins to open up to his Hmong neighbors, taking the young Thao under his wing and – in the end – saving the young man and his sister from a life spent avoiding the dangers that the area’s gang activities pose. Says Clint at one point in the movie, “You know, Thao and Sue are never going to find peace in this world as long as that gang’s around.”
Needless to say, this week’s column is not, in any way shape or form, meant as a movie review, yet sometimes a film as gripping and emotionally honest as “Gran Torino” comes along at a point in time when it truly resonates with an idea or concept that’s been bouncing around one’s head for days, weeks or even months. And that was the case, Monday, as I was – as usual – beginning to think on this week’s opinion piece. Tolerance ... why is it so hard for us to tolerate other’s beliefs, way of life and differences, even as we expect to be tolerated ourselves? And why is it so damn difficult to rethink one’s view of the world, particularly when it’s a black and white accounting with no room for acceptance or change? These are the questions that were running through my mind as the film’s credits rolled, and – unsurprisingly, really – I had very few answers.
Tough questions are like that sometimes, I’ve noticed.
Granted, “Gran Torino” was created to be entertaining (that’s why we watch movies, right?), yet it’s also a glimpse into the misconceptions and the ignorance that negate what’s really the epitome of compassion and understanding ... tolerance. And while we’re all entitled to our own opinion, that doesn’t necessarily make it right, or noble. Taking a step back and attempting to look at the world objectively, through the eyes of another (even those we think of as our worst enemy), can be an enlightening experience, it seems, yet as a society we see less and less of that kind of objectivity. Instead, it’s the same old right versus left; Republican versus Democrat; anti-gun, pro-gun; no drill, no spill ... or drill, baby drill. It’s the fact that a same sex couple, partnered for years (or decades, even) do not have the same rights as your “traditional” couple. It’s people ignoring the warning signs so obvious to those of us who believe the overwhelming majority of scientists who say our climate is changing in drastic fashion. It’s war, violence, shootings and hate. And it is, in so many ways, the absolute antithesis of a country that was built on a foundation of tolerance, compassion, integrity, honor and respect. It’s really no wonder that we’re in the shape we are, when you think about it. How are we to prosper as a nation if we can’t even tolerate each other, let alone respect one another? And how did we get here in the first place? Was it greed? Was it laziness? Or is this simply a forgone conclusion to another chapter of America history, one that our children and children’s children will read about in a history book? And what will they think?
Too many questions and not enough answers, I suppose, although it would be nice to think we have the capability – and desire – to look for those answers. To do less is simply unacceptable.
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