Expanding the Circle 2

Inclusion Strenthens, Rather than Weakens
“For I was seeing in the sacred manner the shape of all things of the spirit, and the shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that make one circle, wide as daylight and starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.” (Black Elk. Singing the Living Tradition, #614)
Many hoops that make one circle. Our moral progress as a people can be measured by how far we have expanded the circle of our concern and respect. All the many hoops of our care -- hoops of family, tribe, locality, state, nation, and favorite sports team – make one big circle. Is our circle as wide as daylight and starlight?

We have expanded the circle in many ways since the voyages 522 years ago that we are remembering this Columbus Day weekend. Columbus’ expedition expanded the circle of the European mind to include awareness of a new world. Neither Columbus nor any of the powers of Europe were prepared then to expand their circle of concern and respect to the people they encountered in this new world. That has been the work of later generations: ending slavery, extending suffrage to women.

This past week (2014 Oct 6 – 12) was a good week for expanding the circle of concern and respect. The Seattle City Counsel and the Portland, Oregon school board each voted to recognize Indigenous people’s Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Minneapolis made the same move last April, and the state of South Dakota, since 1990, has recognized the second Monday of October as Native American Day. On the day for remembering Columbus, let us also – or maybe, instead – remember the worth and dignity of those whose worth and dignity Columbus could not see.

Let our circle grow larger than it has been. It was a remarkable week for expanding the circle of our concern and respect to same-sex couples asking for the respect of recognizing their marriages. The 4th, 7th, and 10th circuit courts of appeal had earlier ruled in favor of expanding the circle of constitutional protection to same-sex marriage, but had stayed their decisions, pending appeal. When, last Monday, the Supreme Court declined to review those decisions, that was the end of the appeals process, meaning those circuit court decisions became law.

The next day, Tuesday, the 9th circuit court also expanded the circle. Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for a unanimous court, said:
“The lessons of our constitutional history are clear: Inclusion strengthens, rather than weakens, our most important institutions. When same-sex couples are married, just as when opposite-sex couples are married, they serve as models of loving commitment to all.”
Inclusion strengthens, rather than weakens. Love is a model for more love.

Of course, the history of inclusion, of expanding the circle, has not been smooth. We ended slavery – except that we didn’t. World-wide estimates of the number of slaves today range from 12 million to 29 million. Some migrant farmworkers in the U.S., for all practical purposes, work as slaves: they’re watched, it’s hard to escape, they’re forced to work.

Women got the vote, but we balked at an ERA, and gender inequality, sexual assault and harassment, and domestic abuse continue to oppress women.

Résumés with white sounding names have a 50 percent greater chance of being called in for an interview than identical resumes with an African-American sounding name. Black renters are told about 11 percent fewer rental units and black homebuyers are shown a fifth fewer homes than their white counterparts. Blacks and whites use illegal drugs at similar rates, but blacks are arrested for it at three times the rate of whites. Black offenders of any crime receive, on average, 10% longer sentences than white offenders of the same crime. So the circle of inclusion – of justice and equality – has not been fully expanded to our siblings of color.

While recent progress on marriage equality has been stunning, LGBT folk continue to face difficulties. Transgender and gender non-conforming people face rampant discrimination in every area of life: education, employment, family life, public accommodations, housing, health, police and jails, and ID documents. Forty-seven states have anti-hate crime laws -- only 24 states include sexual orientation in their legislation. More than half of the states do not ban discrimination by employers or public accommodations based on sexual orientation. Seventy-five percent of US students have no state laws to protect them from harassment and discrimination in school based on their sexual orientation. In public high schools, 97 percent of students report regularly hearing homophobic remarks from their peers. Gay men and lesbians get worse health care. The circle of inclusion has not been fully expanded to our LGBT siblings.

But here’s the thing. We don’t have to fully secure those hoops before pushing on to expand the circle in completely new ways. If we had waited until equality of rights and opportunities for former slaves and their descendants had been fully secured before turning our attention to women’s voting rights, we would still be waiting. Indeed wherever there is injustice or cruelty, it makes injustice and cruelty anywhere else a little easier. Anytime we expand the circle anywhere, it makes more glaring our failure to do have secured inclusion in other areas – and brings increased attention to correct the deficiency. Love models more love.

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This is part 2 of 4 of "Expanding the Circle"
Next: Part 3
Previous: Part 1

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