There are some issues in dispute that seem bound by a simple premise — whether the issue is a matter of choice.
This came up for me recently with the California Supreme Court’s ruling on the ban of gay marriage being unconstitutional. I was wondering why this was such a polarized debate for people when I remembered how some people that I’ve spoken with simply believe that sexual orientation is a conscious choice rather than an natural attribute, like hair color or gender.
I think that when people accept that an issue is beyond a person’s ability to choose, that there is less dispute. This doesn’t always work, but I think it’s crucial for people to understand each other.
Sometimes I try to exemplify the issue by proposing that a person imagine they have cancer. There’s no absolute cure as of yet and the best a person can do is assume a positive attitude and pursue available treatments. While some achieve success, there’s no guarantee that a person can “choose” to get over cancer.
I’ve spoken to people before about gay rights and many times people have simply assumed that being gay was a choice. I don’t fully agree. I imagine that some people choose it, but I also believe that for many (most?) it is simply the way they are built, in the same way I’m male and Asian.
I try to apply this same thinking in matters of status, race, gender, etc… There are some things that can be affected by choice, but there are no guarantees. While many people have achieved amazing successes through hard work, discipline, and positive thinking (amongst other attributes), there are simply forces beyond human choice that affect outcomes.
My point is that I often feel sad at the lack of tolerance or compassion for people that get the short end of the stick in society. Prejudice sucks and I think it can be avoided.
Last thought: consider the people you know that have changed from being more accepting of people to less accepting, then compare that number with people changing from less to more. I think the second number would be larger and I imagine that comes from experience of the world trumping preconceptions from youth. I could be wrong.