Sunday, February 26, 2017

Doing What Is Right

Even after a lifetime of observing human activity, it still surprises me at times to see how superficial our judgments really are.

Last year's elections provide the perfect example. This is not a new thing, but it seems that more people than usual are willing to believe the worst about those who voted differently than they did. The flip side is that they are just as willing to overlook the shortcomings in those who voted the same as they did.

This doesn't apply only to politics. It applies to everything else. People in general are more comfortable believing the best about those with whom they share certain characteristics — age, race, gender, faith, education — and the worst about those with whom they have less in common. But those kinds of characteristics are superficial, and it is a mistake to trust — or distrust — anyone solely on those factors.

I think that must have been the lesson of the episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, "Some of My Best Friends Are Rhoda," that premiered on this night in 1972.

In the episode, Mary had been in a minor collision with a woman with whom she then struck up a friendship. They had been members of the same sorority — on different campuses but probably around the same time. They seemed to be about the same age.

When they came back to Mary's apartment, Rhoda (Valerie Harper) suggested that she and Mary play tennis. Mary's new friend picked up on that and suggested that Mary play with her. They agreed to do so.

Mary's relationship with this new friend really seemed to blossom, and Rhoda was getting jealous. She didn't try too hard to conceal it, either, although it's been my observation that people are more transparent than they think they are.

When Mary's friend wanted to find a fourth player for a doubles match at the tennis club, it was obvious fairly quickly that she did not want to invite Rhoda. She kept making excuses for not asking Rhoda to join them. Mary wanted to know why.

It turned out that the problem was that Rhoda was Jewish, and the tennis club didn't want Jews. Well, that was how Joanne presented it to Mary initially. But Joanne's true colors became clear.

Mary, a gentile, pretended to be Jewish. The instantaneous change in Joanne's facial expression spoke volumes.

So did the expression change on Joanne's face when, a minute later, Mary confessed that she was not Jewish after all.

"I knew that," an obviously relieved Joanne said. "Don't you think I knew that?"

"No," Mary replied. "I don't think you knew that. I think for a minute there you weren't sure — and it made a difference."

That was the end of their friendship, but Mary had stood for what she knew was right.

I seldom hear the episode mentioned, but it was a strong statement for its time — and one of the best Mary Tyler Moore Show episodes.