THROUGH THE FIRE: Getting Along

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By SHARON YAMATO
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on August 11, 2011.)

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It’s been nearly 20 years since Rodney King spoke the prophetic words, “Can we get along?” Lately, there’ve been frightening reminders how hard it is for people to do that.

Witness the recent deficit debacle in Congress. Makes you wonder if some of these people really have America’s best interests at heart or are guided by their own egos. It also made me stop and think about fights of epic verbal proportions that have taken place on battlegrounds other than the U.S. Capitol. These silent campaigns (and not-so-silent ones) are closer to home and have been going on a lot longer.

I think it would be safe to say that conflict doesn’t come easily for those of us raised to avoid it at all costs. Fights in my family home, if they occurred, took place behind closed doors, which of course didn’t make them any less harrowing.  I remember hearing my dad yell at my sister while I stood quivering outside her bedroom door. I was determined never to do anything to upset him the way she had — even though I had no idea what had caused his anger.

Just as I learned to obey my autocratic father, I was also trained to build consensus with my siblings. Coming from a family of nine children, that wasn’t always easy to do, and the way to prevent any problems was to avoid those I disagreed with. As a result, there was one sister I didn’t speak to at all until well into my teens. Those habits die hard, and I’m sorry to say that I suffer from the same avoidance principle today.

The same consensus-building model seems to exist in many organizations with which I have been involved. I’ve noticed that many who attend these meetings are not really happy unless unanimity is achieved. That’s not to say that conflicts don’t occur and egos don’t rear their ugly heads. Post-meeting, you’re sure to find someone griping and groaning — but never in public. And those are the simmering conflicts that seem to harm people the most.

I think it’s this deeply felt need to build a consensus that has caused many problems in our community. It started in camp with the no-no’s and resisters against the JACLers, who wanted everyone to demonstrate their patriotism above all. Clearly, some took a stand that diverged from the JACL norm, thus breaking the consensus, and still have not been completely forgiven. Issues as important as freedom and life-death were at stake, so understandably this has not been an easy division to overcome.

Lesser struggles today have dealt with terminology (concentration camp vs. relocation center), but still seem to raise the same hackles. Still, it’s important to openly confront these issues, rather than to stew privately about them, in order to overcome these great divides. Thank goodness there are those forthright individuals among us who are willing to do just that.

We seem to be very cohesive on the outside, but those secret issues that divide us are powerfully endemic. One that comes to mind and not often talked about is that of gay rights.

I, for one, am grateful to prominent Japanese Americans like George Takei who have brought it out of the closet and made gay freedom a mantra, but I often wonder how many homophobic people are still among us. Whether for religious or homophobic reasons, I’m still stunned that Proposition 8 passed in our liberal and Asian-populous state. As victims of civil injustice and racial prejudice ourselves, we ought to be the first to defend all those who suffer from inequality caused by intolerance.

These public issues are the tip of the iceberg in our community. There are so many other ideological, and even organizational, conflicts that are boiling in our pots. I only hope that we continue to speak out about those issues that separate us as an important step toward helping us get along in a real and meaningful way. After all, isn’t that for the good of all of us?

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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey and can be reached by email. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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