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Meditating on Good Friday and Upon Seeing "Intolerance" by D. W. Griffith

As I contemplated today on Good Friday, I was disturbed by what is going on about us in the country and the world at large. Everywhere I turn, I see examples of “intolerance” or worse. Sadly, not even one’s children are feeling safe and are protesting the lack of action to protect them. People seem to be numbed by the impatience and vitriol that is being lashed at others for assorted reasons. Some people I feel really have not completely analyzed in an objective manner what is happening. From this understanding, one can or should be able to justify their actions, knowing that whatever they do has consequences, be they good or bad, not only for themselves but also for others, for we do not live in a vacuum.

The epic film "Intolerance" by D. W. Griffith is truly masterfully done, and for a film made in 1916, it uses techniques that were imitated by countless others thereafter. "Intolerance" weaves four different tales from different time periods and regions to illustrate what Griffith was trying to explain and perhaps regain face after his other epic film "Birth of a Nation," created such controversy.

What I kept thinking while watching the film is: The world really doesn’t seem to get it, does it? Humanity keeps repeating itself to varying degrees. We tend to forget that since the cave dwellers, different peoples/tribes have been fighting for the most basic needs: water, food, land, and power over others. We also forget that on every continent there have been similar tribes who have fought each other over these commodities. Look at Africa, the Middle East, Asia, Europe (North, Central, West, and South), The Americas—the same story, tribes/cultures have clashed with each other over these I mentioned and then we have the big ones: religion and money. Granted, at times similar tribes/cultures have formed alliances with others to push out those they do not wish to be controlled by, threatened by, or even killed by. Then through the years, these groups have developed into different tribes/cultures, often centered around a religious or political ideology. I’m not saying anything new, it’s just that as I look about and think, which I seem to have more time to do in retirement after teaching for forty years, the whole picture is coming into focus under my lens.

So, what divides us today? Pretty much the same basic needs/commodities: water, food, land, religion, politics, money, and desire for power over oneself and, yes, over others.

We mustn’t forget that once the Democrats in the Deep South were the opposite of what they stand for today and that the Republicans were also the opposite, in general terms. Today, these two parties have exchanged their roles: Democrats are the liberals and Republicans are the conservatives. But I would warn everyone, as I used to explain to my students: Be careful about whom you support. As my maternal grandmother used to tell me: “Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres.” Or “Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Talk is cheap. Pay attention to others’ actions. And most importantly, one must remain blind to others’ skin color, language, religion, social class, attire, etc. as good and evil come in all colors of the rainbow, languages, religions, social classes, and attire. Plus, what goes around comes around, and karma can be a blessing or a curse, because no one escapes the physics of the universe, be it good or bad, regardless of religious philosophy—it’s simple physics.

So, where does this leave me? I’m troubled and worried for this country and the world at large. But history has shown us that life throughout the ages has flowed like the tide: nothing is constant, the only constant is Change. That plus cultural norms or people’s action spread and become contagious, for humans like to imitate what they see or perceive to be “in” and leave what is “out of fashion.” This is what bothers me: What is becoming fashionable is spreading and before long, if humans are not careful, the contagion can take over the whole country as it has in the past as Griffith tried to illustrate in his four examples of “intolerance” over the ages from his perspective in 1916.

What to do? I can only suggest that each of us begin to ask ourselves: What can I do to change things for the better? What am I doing or not doing that is enabling those in power or those who are doing what is inhumane? Also, realize that one’s actions have a ripple effect and what you do can affect those you love (family members, dear friends, etc.) without your realizing it. What responsibility does one have to others besides oneself?

It’s crucial to realize that life is not solely about money or power—these can be removed from you in a flash, but your actions or inactions will stay with your conscience, if you have one, for your lifetime. Yes, the power lies within yourself: Do something positive with it.

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