Generous Orthodoxy and the United States

The main concept in Gladwell’s podcast Generous Orthodoxy is the idea that change is hard, especially when it’s something that we as a society/culture have known for a long time. But when we are generous enough to accept a new change that is coming, it opens a new door for us to step through. One that may be frightening at first, but pays off more in the long run. The term “generous orthodoxy” was first introduced by Haans Fry, a theologian who studied religion. To break the oxymoron down, Gladwell (2016) takes the idea of Haans Fry to explain “generous orthodoxy” is this way: “Orthodoxy without generosity leads to blindness and generosity without orthodoxy is shallow and empty.” When one can successfully combine the two together, the end result is something of great beauty to human nature.

To take a look at a recent example of somewhere where “generous orthodoxy” could have been applied to a situation, we as Americans can look at the recent problem of African Americans and police officers; specifically, the side of African American women saying, “Civil rights groups and organizations representing women say closer attention must be paid to what’s happening between police and women of color.” There have been more recent occasions of brutality against women of color. One example is the officer who flipped a black girl out of her desk. The “County Sheriff Leon Lott called Fields’ actions ‘unacceptable,’ and said videos recorded by her classmates show the girl posed no danger to anyone.” So why did the officer think it was necessary to flip her out of her desk? Maybe he was having a really bad day, maybe she wasn’t listening to what he was saying, or maybe he was a nasty racist and finally just blew up on this young girl. Whatever his reasoning in doing so was, it was wrong.

The amount of civil rights he violated are numerous to the naked eye; although, “The FBI is investigating whether the student’s civil rights were violated, and school district officials are promising to review how police are used for discipline.” Civil right issues between blacks and whites have always been an issue. For awhile, they had seemed to be a little better than what they had been in the past, but in the past few years alone, the “connection between police brutality and sexual assault” has become a topic of interest to many. According to the Cato Institute, “over nine percent of the reported police misconduct in 2010 was sexual assault — second only to the use of excessive force. Of that percentage, women of color are undoubtedly impacted.”

Racial equality was something that the United States reached for for so long. It was one of the main reasons behind the Civil War, not just to end slavery, but also to actually have America be ‘The Land of the Free’ and the reason why we had activists such as Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks. They fought for the equality of their fellow race in a country that was supposed to accept them regardless of the color of their skin. Malcolm Gladwell would say in his podcast Generous Orthodoxy that today, we need to “find the middle ground” that had been poured by activists in the past. The generosity of people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks was not them giving up their seat on a bus or letting someone walk over them, but generosity in their eyes was the idea that it relates to how open you can be to idea of change in one’s own life. I’d say they were pretty comfortable with it. They have the utmost respect for their activist ways towards reaching equality between blacks and whites, which is already half the battle to having “generous orthodoxy.”

The women who feel as though the police brutality towards them is reaching a point of unbearableness, can stand up for themselves, but it should be done in a “generously orthodox way.” One that Gladwell would describe in his podcast of “respecting the body you are trying to heal.” Recent accounts of the rioting going on towards the police officers, is a generous way of doing things, but it completely leaves out the idea of orthodoxy. You cannot heal a body without first respecting it. The same goes for if you only respect the body without trying to heal it. As Gladwell would define it, the “balance of loyalty and consciousness is the hardest thing to do.” Much of this idea can also be seen when Princeton had a few problems of its own with students of color.

Princeton University, we know as an Ivy League school. One that is well respected and supplies “the leaders/thinkers of tomorrow.” Unfortunately, for some of the students of racial backgrounds there, they saw Princeton University differently than the orthodox student. The African American students saw rich, white man’s name on this building; rich, white man’s name on that building; rich, white man’s name on this building; rich, white man’s name on that building; and so on and so forth. The one building name that upset them the most was the graduate school named after President Wilson — a horrible, nasty racist. They, the African American student at Princeton, thought that Princeton was not “welcoming them” due to the fact that not one colored person was displayed so prominently in the public eye — such as the graduate school named after President Wilson or the many other buildings named after rich, white men. To try to be generous — open to a new change — they staged a 32 hour sit in in the President’s office at Princeton. Unfortunately, they didn’t’ achieve anything. They didn’t respect the body they were trying to heal. They could have looked back in time at their fellow people of color who made an impact on our society today. Martin Luther King Jr. was an activist who united the black people in a positive way without disrupting the body. An example of “generous orthodoxy.”

He “rioted” in a peaceful way. It was one that brought change to the world around us and started the equal rights movement in may ways. He didn’t say hateful things about the white race or complain and whine about why the African American race was so under represented. He said things like: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” For someone who was such a big deal in the African American community, he was so gracious. He did things in an orthodox way compared to so many other leaders around the world — all of whom wanted to change the world. Martin Luther King Jr. was nothing like Hitler for example. Hitler displayed nothing about generous orthodoxy, but he did change the world. Martin Luther King Jr. however, used orthodoxy in the way he presented a situation and generosity when he dealt with it.

The idea of “generous orthodoxy” can be applied to many other situations in present day America, but the main idea to take away from “generous orthodoxy” is when someone can understand that being open to change, heals the body, while being committed to tradition is respecting the body, (not necessarily your body, but the body of people you are surrounded by or trying to change), one is able to achieve the sense that they sacrificed for the “greater good.” Being able to sacrifice is the last, final, and most important part to achieving “generous orthodoxy.” There is always give and take in any situation, but when you can sacrifice something — like your pride — and stand up for something you believe in, you have respected the body you are trying to heal, you have achieved the “balance of loyalty and consciousness,” and ultimately, you have achieved the idea of “generous orthodoxy.”