Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The new colossus

A person I know recently posted the following on Facebook:
"Stay away from negative people. They have a problem for every solution."

It may sound like a good idea. It may sound like a proper way to deal with bad people. But I also found it deeply ostracizing. Who are these negative people? What exactly is the difference between a negative person and a positive person? If I stay away from them, will they suffer from my absence? What if I am the negative person? Will I be ostracized? Then I might become even more negative and the people who interact with me will suffer even more from my even greater negativity.

So here's the answer I gave to my Facebook acquaintance:

"For some, staying away from negative people may seem like a good choice. I do not share that choice. Negative people have more to teach me about the world and about myself than the people who seem positive to me.

If I make mistakes, and we all make mistakes, there's little chance I'll figure them out and correct them when I talk only to people who make the same mistakes I do. But if I go and chat with a toxic person, there's a chance she may consider the world from vantage points I've never thought of. And these novel points of view will enrich me, however painful it may be to renounce my past prejudices, and I will build new points of view.

Of course, this is taxing and one then needs to recuperate in the company of positive people. But the exchange with a negative person will have given everybody a chance to realize the imperfection of their knowledge or their reasoning. And maybe for the toxic person, I am the one who appears as negative."

And that made me think of the plate on the statue of liberty (hence the title of this article), because I think its text shares some of my ideas of welcoming the contribution of people who would otherwise be turned away.

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

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