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Some Lessons Better Not Learned
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 • Posted June 10, 2009

One of my favorite Rogers & Hammerstein shows is still South Pacific. It's a wonderful story of World War II and the plain and simple people that worked together to win that long battle.

It is also a story of people overcoming their own notions of prejudice and bigotry in order to allow themselves to fall in love. For nurse Nellie Forbush from the heartland of the United States, it's overcoming her notions of the French planter, Emile Debeque and his children by his deceased Polynesian wife. For Lieutenant Cable, it's getting beyond the strange exoticism of Liatt, daughter of Bloody Mary, whom he has found on the forbidden island of Bali Hai.

Unlike many of the musicals from that period, not all situations are resolved in a traditional "happy ending." Though Nellie Forbush and Emile Dubeque do find one another, Lt. Cable is lost in a battle against the Japanese and Liatt is left to wonder if her love would have prospered.

One of the simplest, yet best know, songs from the show is a short three stanza ode called, "Carefully Taught."

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent shade,

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late,

Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives hate,

You’ve got to be carefully taught!

It's a short song. Very simple melody. Very easy on the ear.

It is sung by Lt. Cable, contemplating if he can allow himself to fall in love with Liatt, an exotic girl with a skin of a different color. A background of strange customs and traditions. Everything that Cable is not.

The show, and the song, started bouncing around in my head the other day when I heard someone use a derogatory term to refer to someone of a different race and skin color. There were no other specifics about this person, just the fact that they were different than the speaker was enough to make them inferior in his mind.

I guess that after years of seeing people changing their hearts and minds, I sometimes forget that other people haven't changed at all. For those few, it will always be about race, about sex, about skin color. And, contrary to what you might think, bigots are not constrained to white males. The person making the comment I heard was a Hispanic male. And I hear comments from females as well.

Bigotry does not discriminate, strangely enough. People hate those things in others that are different from themselves. And they use those differences as a reason to treat others differently.

But, as the song says, you have to be carefully taught.

After all these many years, isn't it time we started teaching our children a different lesson?

It’s all just my opinion.

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