Two Different Stories from 1966

1966 - Civil Rights, Vietnam, Assassinations, Protests: How did we connect with them- then and now? 

Much of what I recall from 1966 is pleasant. I was married that year. I was in my second year at Idaho State University.  I had spent my entire life, up to that point, in Idaho. I had little actual experience that would have helped me understand all that was happening in the world. The Vietnam war and civil rights protests were on TV every night. Guys I had gone to school with were going to war.  Some were coming back and going again, and some didn't come back.  The “I have a Dream speech” took place in August, 1963 and then things seemed to get worse.

The nature of the war was something that we did get first hand reports on when they guys we had gone to school with came back.

The issue of civil rights was one that, as far as first hand experiences, for us in that part of the country, were not the same. The blacks lived in one part of town. To some of us it really wasn’t clear why and to some degree it seemed like it was just where they wanted to be. The only prejudice we really heard was mostly from our parents’ generation.

When I attended Pocatello High School the Student Body President was Marvin Brown. He was an African American. He was very popular and well liked, and that is what you heard about him. You didn’t hear much from the students about race. In September 1962 Marvin was killed in a car accident.  He would have gone on to Harvard in another few weeks with his scholarship.  We were all saddened by the event. Things were very different in Southeastern Idaho than what you saw on the news the next few years.

Why is it that our lives then were sheltered and we were not in the direct line of fire for all these problems?  Why didn’t we understand it more then? Does the fact that we didn’t understand it then mean we didn’t come to the same conclusions that many who were in the middle of it did, at least eventually? We thought we understood it at the time.  We had knowledge of what was happening but we didn't have experience. I seemed incredible that there even was such a difference in treatment of people in our country.

Some may feel that for us, in that part of the country, that it was "just the luck of the draw"?  By that I mean that some people believe that we don't really make a lot of choices in our lives and just live with the set of circumstances were given. They feel that choices, and how we feel about things, are the result of how were "wired". We don't make the decision as to where were born, or who our parents are. Our genetics and circumstances are felt to have programmed us and dictate how we choose?  Even today a popular point of view is that free will is an illusion.  I disagree with this point of view. If I didn't have the experience back in 1966 to understand what was happening then, I have had more than enough time to ponder it since then, and I have.  Looking back and seeing my own lack of experience has compelled me to look harder than others may have.

Experience, when added to knowledge, is better than either one alone in the search for wisdom.  The search also requires deciding how to connect the events in our life.   It can take some time for things to seem clear.

One experience I did have surprised me. I am still trying to understand what it was that it taught me but I think part of the answer is to help me understand a little more about kindness.

About the same time as all the things that were so troubling were happening in the country an unexpected thing happened to me. At the University, we would go to the student union between classes and meet with friends and talk.  I had made a new friend in one of my classes. He was an exchange student from a country in Africa. He was black, very smart, and seemed to have a different take on things.  Sitting and talking with him was something I looked forward to each day.  I am not saying we were best friends but several months went by and our routine was solid.  One day while we sat together talking he changed the subject and told me that he didn’t want to be my friend anymore and he was going to get up and leave? I was very surprised and asked why? He said that it was obvious to him that the only reason I wanted to be friends with him was because he was an exchange student from Africa and not just an American Black. (Even now I wouldn't use the word that then was used for Blacks). He said that with the way the American people felt about and treated the American Blacks, it was clear to him that I must be no different. He added that this was his conclusion and he felt it was obvious. He said that all I had to do was watch the news to see it was true.  He left and the friendship ended?

There is no good ending to this story. I was shocked. I didn’t understand how I was to blame?  I felt offended. How could I be so naive?  Here is a case where I had experience, before I had knowledge. 

A much more current example, of really the same thing, happens sometimes when you’re in a room full of people who don't like white people and have their own language. They don't think you understand what they are saying, or that the person doesn’t either. You learn that you’re not liked and it has nothing to do with you.

We need to find ways to let others know we care about them. I would rather be misjudged or criticized about caring for others than to be guilty of not caring.

Knowledge tells me that we should care about people. Experience tells me that it can be one sided at times. Wisdom tells me that caring and kindness matter

As far as misjudging others, and perhaps not caring enough, is there a light at the end of the tunnel for this problem? I hope so!