Met a New Friend who knew our people in Nebraska

Her name is Lyn Messersmith and her  weekly column appears in two local papers, Sheridan County Journal Star, and Valentine Nebraska,  Midland News. Once a month in Cattle Business Weekly

She’s an excellent writer, and It’s my privilege and honor to have her permission to  reproduce her writings from time to time.

Here’s her 2/25/15 Post

The Lay of the Land

By Lyn Messersmith

Judgment Calls

My friend and I enjoy interacting with audiences after presenting programs for the Nebraska Humanities Council. Often we hear pioneer tales or are reunited with people from our pasts, and whenever we mention the places we hail from, somebody asks if we know this or that person in those hometowns.

Recently, during a story about lady bronc rider, Tad Lucas, I added that I too am a native of Cherry County. A frail looking woman came up later to tell me her daughter had connections with a family in Cherry County.

“Yes, I know them,” I replied, preparing to add what good folks they are. But she wanted to convey a message of her own.

“Well, they’re Catholic, you know,” she said. “I’m a Protestant. My faith has kept me going through the loss of my husband, but my kids, well, some of them are following the right path but others I’m working on them.”

It was hard to listen politely as her discourse became even more judgmental.  But, I’ve learned that when someone so opinionated gets going, about all that’s required of me is an occasional; “Hmmm, I see,” or, “I’m sure it will turn out ok.”

Then, a man approached Deb with a response to her mention of having taught school on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

“Those Indians, they don’t believe in God, do they?”

Deb has a profound respect for Native Americans and their spirituality. As she carefully began to explain some of those concepts, the man interrupted her several times.

“I mean they don’t believe in God the right way, not like we do, isn’t that right?”

Eventually, I think both of them called a truce, knowing this wasn’t going anywhere good. We usually come away from a performance energized and uplifted, full of new ideas, and reassured that, after all, is said and done, humans are more alike than different. This time felt like we traveled home under a cloud of sadness. But nothing happens by mistake, and the lesson I took from those encounters is this.

Most of us take for granted that everyone else thinks like we do, or if not, then they are wrong, and we argue our points. We apply this to virtually all aspects of life. It’s the reason we say things like, “How could she do that?” “I can’t figure how they live that way,” or “It’s about what you’d expect of a …” (fill in the blanks with Republican, Liberal, Hispanic, lawyer, teenager, man, blonde)

When we say those things, we reveal ourselves, our conceit, prejudices, ignorance, arrogance, and most of all, our fears because, above all, we fear being different. In our minds, different equals wrong, and in order for someone to be right, someone else has to be wrong. The rise of global terrorism undoubtedly bears that mark.

The woman who fears Catholicism, never thought to wonder if I might be Catholic, and if so, whether her comments would hurt me. The man who denigrated Native American spirituality might well have been speaking to someone of that descent. Deb’s hair and eyes are dark, and she carries herself with that sort of proud grace common to our First Nation friends.

I’ve been in groups with someone whose family members live an alternate lifestyle while a person in the room made scornful comments about gay marriage. I also listened to rants about low life criminals, knowing that the woman in the seat next to me has a  incarcerate son.

Surely we can be true to our personal values without making mean-spirited comments. I’m still a little off center by recent encounters with judgmental people, likely because I too need to work on self-righteousness.

My children’s father had a saying, not letting one’s mouth overload another part of the anatomy. We all do that. We can all do better.

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