Pyle: We are all dependent on the kindness of strangers

By George Pyle

The Salt Lake Tribune

Published: January 10, 2014 05:47PM
Updated: January 10, 2014 05:47PM

“I’m not clever or good-looking, but I am kind.” — Derek Noakes (Ricky Gervais), “Derek”

No matter how much I implored them, my parents would never tell me who they voted for. They were afraid, I suppose, that their future professional blabbermouth would relay that information to other people, putting them in embarrassing or impolitic situations.

But I once told my mother who she should vote for. Or against. In my best James James Morrison Morrison moment, I instructed her that she should not vote for Richard Nixon.

Why not?

“He has a fierce face.”

It was 1960. I was 4.

I was also right, and at that tender age acquired a reputation as a political analyst that I turned into a career. Though my batting average as a prognosticator dropped precipitously.

These days, I would never argue that a person’s character could be discerned from his or her countenance. A fierce, or sullen, physiognomy could hide a heart of gold.

No judging books by their covers. By their works ye shall know them.

And some of the work that is going on these days in Utah is pretty fierce indeed.

The official reaction to the federal court ruling that, for a few days there, legalized same-sex marriage in Utah has been horribly, if unevenly, unkind. Surprising, coming from our grandfatherly governor and our fresh-faced attorney general. Some of the unofficial reaction has been downright cruel.

In the name of protecting the Constitution and the rights of children, those who are working so hard to put this genie back in its bottle are trashing human rights and going far out of their way to denigrate a great many otherwise happy and functional families.

The fierce face Utah is showing to its own residents, and to the world, is just what U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy described in his opinion striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

He said such anti-gay legislation, “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

All there is to be gained by prolonging the fight against marriage equality is the selfish satisfaction of being hateful to someone who is different from you.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: People go out of their way — in meetings and press conferences — to say demeaning things about same-sex couples and their children. Then they say, “See, gay families are unhappy.”

It is the same for the many states — which, for the moment, include Utah — that are refusing to fully expand Medicaid coverage as envisioned in the Affordable Care Act.

The economic boosts, to the nation and the state, to be gained by increasing the number of healthy people who can actually pay their doctor bills, are undeniable. Opposition to Medicaid expansion, to the extension of unemployment benefits and food stamps, is best explained by a simple, yet deep, distaste, for President Obama, for the undeserving poor or, more likely, for both.

The need to be mean to people who are different than you, especially those who can’t fight back unless the judicial system steps in on their behalf, seems deeply seeded in the human psyche. Sometimes, sadly, religion is used as justification for that urge.

Other times, religion, with its underlying admonition to be kind, provides another rationalization. It gives people who are kind at heart the social cover to be kind in deed, without being dismissed as weak or naive.

Or liberal.

George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, evaluates potential employees, and employers, by how they treat the waitress.

gpyle@sltrib.com

Twitter: @debatestate