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Professor Higgins of “My Fair Lady” fame posed the question: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?”
He did so because he was confused and confounded by the perceived vagaries of his female pupil, a young woman whose differences were becoming more intriguing and attractive than he wished to admit.
The query was rhetorical. He scarcely wished his colleague Pickering to respond logically, or even to respond at all. He asked Mrs. Pearce the same question, with the same motivation. Poor Higgins!
All he knew was the creature he had taken under his tutelage was more than he had anticipated. Her differences confronted his concept of humanity.
They were forcing him to change and that was more than discomfiting. So, he loudly announced his question as a diversion from his impending need to be transformed.
His assessment: “What in all of heaven could’ve prompted her to go, after such a triumph as the ball? What could’ve depressed her? What could’ve possessed her? I cannot understand the wretch at all.
“Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that! Their heads are full of cotton, hay and rags! They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating, vacillating, calculating, agitating, maddening and infuriating hags! Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
“Men are so decent, such regular chaps. Ready to help you through any mishaps. Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum. Why can’t a woman be a chum?
“Why is thinking something women never do? Why is logic never even tried? Straight’ning up their hair is all they ever do. Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside? Why can’t a woman behave like a man?”
His ranting and raving was not yet complete. There was yet another question to be asked, one that would reveal the crux of his dilemma. The question was this: “Why can’t a woman be like me?”
There we have it. Why can’t others in my life be like me?
Though Higgins listed all the valued attributes he saw in men, the compilation was a smokescreen, a distraction from the reality he could see his own predilections clearly and positively but was blind to the wonders of a woman who did not mirror them in the way he proposed.
After all, he was the teacher, she the student. What was there for him to learn from someone whose language was coarse and clipped, whose life experience was narrow and limited?
When and how had the roles been reversed? How could the groomer now be subject to grooming? How had his lady fair, his possession honed into sharp perfection, become her own person? What would that mean to him? What place would he now have?
The game he began had taken a different, unexpected turn, and was now being lived in earnest.
The musical strikes at our hearts. It hits far too close to home. How often we see ourselves trying to make another person into our own image and likeness.
It hits harder yet when the likeness we create limits and inhibits rather than empowers and enhances the other. If we truly understand its dimensions, one of the most difficult challenges we humans face is the call to love one another.
To love another person is to honor, revere and respect our differences as well as to reveal our similarities.
One of my daughters teaches in a middle school far from here. In a recent conversation, she told me about a project done in the sixth grade. It is called the artifacts box, and its goal is to help students familiarize themselves with their teachers.
As we talked, I mentioned it might be an interesting and educational twist to have one box filled with artifacts that represented the hobbies, interests, and personalities of all the teachers, rather than to have a box for each teacher.
This would afford a great opportunity to speak about similarities and differences and how they impact teamwork, not only among teachers but also among students. I got so excited thinking about it that I began to wish I were back in the teaching profession again...well, just for a moment or two!
The longer we discussed the possibility, the more my daughter understood how difficult and how crucial it is to honor differences. We spoke of the many different personalities that comprise our own extended family, noting we could find similarities easily enough but were loathe to honor the differences.
Why can’t a brother or sister, an aunt or uncle, a niece or nephew, an assortment of in-laws be more like us? Why can’t they be more like me?
Our mutual laughter sounded loudly in the split second silence that followed the conversation.
Both of us knew well our discussion was easy when it remained an intellectual endeavor, a description of academic possibilities, but it hit hard when we recalled various family members who did not fit our profile of courage, understanding, wisdom and love.
We laughed at our own inability to follow the direction we had so carefully drawn for others.
In an historic election year, the dictum is even more critical. Instead of seeking clones of similarity and mocking the dissimilar, instead of bashing each other and ferreting out every possible flaw or mistake, wouldn’t it be both refreshing and more honest to admit the areas of difference and honor them?
Wouldn’t it be great to hear the reasons for one’s choice, the data behind one’s decision and honor the same in the opposing candidate?
Wouldn’t this be a wonderful way for all people to get together?
Surely, it would demand time and energy, commitment and compassion, awareness and acute listening. The cost is considerable; the reward is infinitely compounded. The result is heartfelt change, not for the sake of change but for the good of all.
Why can’t a woman be more like a man? Because both are needed to complement each other. Both are needed for a healthy symbiosis.
Why can’t you be more like me? Because your gifts, your very person, are needed to balance mine—and mine are needed to balance yours.
Together, we are more than any of us is alone.
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], lead chaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.