Catalyst in Unexpected Places

Last night I was listening to NPR on the drive back home. They were discussing the topic of destiny: does where we come from dictate where we’re going?

It was a about a man who became mayor in Silverton, Oregon. Silverton is a small town in rural Oregon, most of the resident are conservative and staunchly Republican. Stu Rasmussen, the man who would be mayor, is a native son- he was born and raised in Silverton with no plans of leaving his beloved town. To make the long story short, he had undergone a gradual transition from a conservative, flannel-wearing, all-American man, to a full-on transgender. He became the first openly transgender mayor in America. The line that particularly stood out for me, was how small towns like these can be the frontiers of progression.

Although most people don’t understand what compelled Stu to undergo such a radical transformation, they still defended him against Evangelists wanting to throw him out of office due to his gender identification. Regardless of his vast transformation, they still see the same man that ran the theater, that fixed computers, and that man with good moral characters. By knowing Stu and not seeing him just as the person that dresses as a woman, they’ve come to accept and embrace him despite their conservative values.

It made me realize that hatred stems from fearful ignorance. People hate what they can’t understand, despise what isn’t easily digested for comprehension, judge solely on the surface. In hatred, a single trait is isolated obscuring every other aspect making up a person. It degrades a person, strips all his humanity and turns him into a one dimensional being. People de-familiarize themselves from the possible links connecting them to the perceived enemy- by doing so they place the perceived enemy far away without relatable traits. People shut-off any redeeming qualities which makes hate thrive and flourish. It’s so much easier to blindly hate, rather than grapple with moral ambiguity, use reason, and see the other perspective. It’s the hatred of the unfamiliar that hinders progress. If we all took time to look past the veils and pretense, maybe we’ll gain a better understanding of the world around us, gain a new perspective on issues, and find solutions to problems plaguing us all.

I know its not easy, a lot of people are stuck in their ways, they are steadfast in the beliefs with which they were raised, but maybe we can learn a lesson from Silverton. Its not a betrayal of principle, but mere adjustments and alterations to accepted beliefs, just a change in perspective. It takes a brave individual to be the catalyst of change in a placid and unchanging town. I admire Stu for stepping out, embracing who he is, and still never giving up in his dream even after knowing the critics ahead. Despite the grand undertaking I think there’s hope that one day it wouldn’t matter what you wear, where you came from, and who you love, as long as there’s genuine intent and clear plans for a better tomorrow a person can lead the change necessary for progress. In a broader sense, I think it’s possible to change a set trajectory, and forge a better road ahead. It may seem like an impossible dream, but this I believe.


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