In a time when many different voices can be heard, we need to remember that the loudest or most popular doesn’t speak for everyone.
I told my friend, a retired librarian, that my next column was going to be about “Animal Farm,” the book by George Orwell. She asked that I send it to her when I was done. But now she’s gone. My friend, a local resident who helped many kids learn to love reading, recently passed away. She introduced us to many authors and my daughter is now an avid reader.
The last chat I had with my friend was about Banned Books Week (https://bannedbooksweek.org/) and the recent criticism of many of the books we read as kids. This year a variety of books including Dr. Seuss and Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” fell into some manner of public disfavor. Ironically, a quick peek at the lists of previously banned books shows that “Fahrenheit 451,” a book about the burning of books, was itself banned.
“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” ― George Orwell, “Animal Farm”
The book, published in 1945, still rings true today, and that quote is particularly timely. There are many written variations on the theme of the oppressed taking over and then becoming oppressors.
At a prior employer of mine, we had team-building exercises that showed us the different viewpoints of those in the majority and those in the minority and how opinions of what was fair could easily get reversed as one moved up the workplace hierarchy. We thought we were savvy young newcomers to a major global company, but we found that we did indeed devolve into “Animal Farm” thinking in a simple workplace exercise.
2021 is feeling a little “Animal Farm,” too. Some viewpoints are popular while expressing others will get you criticized, slammed on social media, or fired. The popular view, by the “in” animals, gets special privileges while the uncool animals get pilloried.
We become better humans by at least considering diverse views. Too many lack an understanding of why anyone might think differently than they do.
When I mentioned the views of Midwesterners like me, I had a friend simply say, “F*** the farmers.” As I struggled with my daughter’s Zoom education prospects, I was told it’s “un-American” to want schools open.
Conversely, those who were concerned about their health during the pandemic were called “sheeple.” Those concerned about pollution, crime and drug use in their neighborhoods are labeled “NIMBYs.” Consensus and compromise have become bad words. Making exceptions for “our side” is common, because “our side” is justified, much like the pigs in “Animal Farm” said. Some animals are more equal than others.
You can learn from listening to what’s shunned. One of my favorite quotes comes from “To Kill a Mockingbird,” currently on “pause” by our local high school district: “As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat Black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it — whenever a white man does that to a Black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash” (Atticus Finch).
Published in 1960, the book is a stunning portrait of not just race issues but also the many hard realities of the time. Uncomfortable perhaps, but also thought-provoking.
Recently, my daughter announced that in science class she learned that we are in an ice age. Skeptical, I looked it up and found it to be fascinatingly true, yet so different than what you hear in the news.
We are in an interglacial period, which has recurred at least five times. The Earth has been warmer, and colder, many times before now. Does it mean our efforts to have cleaner air are not needed? No, because that has certainly helped us. Given that climate is clearly cyclical, working together to help everyone successfully live with the inevitable changes would be a good use of our time. Looking at things from a different perspective changes what message and what approach makes sense.
Whether we are talking books, people, facts or value judgements, snubbing something or someone stifles discussion. The world isn’t binary, it’s a spectrum. Some shouldn’t be more equal than others.
The real victory is in helping ALL animals have a happy life on the farm.
In memoriam, Cheryl Hardy Phillips.
Maria Gutzeit is a chemical engineer, business owner, former elected official and mom living in Santa Clarita.