What Rudolph Teaches Us About Accepting Biological Diversity
I’ve spent some time this month thinking about our traditional Christmas stories and the truths they relay to us. Somehow, even with these truths glaring at us through familiar and nostalgic stories and characters, our society is still blind to them in everyday life. In particular, I have been thinking about my old childhood favorite, the 1964 rendition of “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.” It’s been brought deeper into my consciousness this season due to the fact that my three-year-old is obsessed with it. As I’ve listened to it over and over, I have realized how relevant this analogous story is to what is going on in our world even fifty years after its creation.
The main theme of the movie is the idea of allowing individuals to forge their own paths and be their true selves even if their otherness is scary to us. In real life, I have found this to be a theme that causes controversy, angst, and revulsion. Yet how many of us grew up on this and other stories that contain these themes. It’s not as repulsive to accept such a concept if we’re talking about a red nose reindeer, as opposed to say a queer person.
It’s easy to sympathize with the story of Rudolph and to recognize the universal truths that are contained within his story. How horrible that his parents were so afraid of what other people thought that they tried to cover up the thing that made Rudolph different! Santa, being the leader, a character who is almost deified in our mythology, let all of this happen. He made a mistake in not recognizing Rudolph for his true potential. With good intentions, he encouraged Rudolph’s parents to cover his red nose so that he could have a chance at being one of Santa’s star reindeer. He set the whole mindset for everyone, that a biological variation was grounds for not being on his team. Comet ran the reindeer games, and upon finding Rudolph’s secret kicked him out of the reindeer tribe assuring that everyone else would shun him.
Many people sympathize with Rudolph, but they fail to recognize his story being played out in their own lives and culture. Our own Mormon people have failed to see the harm we are causing our LGBT sisters and brothers as well as ourselves, as we have asked them to hide who they really are. We treat our leaders as though they are above reproach, though they have failed to lead us correctly on this issue. They have encouraged the wrong practices in regards to homosexuality, and have caused local leaders and members to ostracize, bully, and shun some of the most valuable members among us.
The story continues on with others who are ostracized from society. Hermey feels confined within the narrow role he is supposed to play as an elf. The misfit toys all have some deformity that makes them different, and therefore unacceptable for the specific function they are typically thought to fulfill. Overshadowing it all is the abominable snowman, the grand embodiment of fear of the other. It is the story of anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow worldview of cultures that have not successfully integrated otherness into their concept of wholeness. It is the childless woman who is not fulfilling her proper role while she spends her time improving upon the world of science or medicine. It is the story of the autistic child who might not behave in what society considers a “normal” way. It is the story of Syrian refugees needing a home among people who don’t understand them and their culture. In an ever changing world where a diversity of people, cultures, and ideals are merging, an inability to adapt leaves us with a team of reindeer that are all the same, no dentists among our elves, an island of misfit toys, and an enormous fear of an abominable “other.”
Feminists, intellectuals, biologically and culturally diverse people, liberals, these are the people I have met on my own journey to the island of misfit toys within my Mormon culture. Rudolph’s journey to discover himself and his own potential without the judgment of others, leads him to his fellow outcast Hermey, leads him to the island of misfit toys, leads him to the abominable snowman, and leads him back home again. He saves those who are closest to him, his family, the first ones who recognized their mistake and went in search of him.
The end of the story is wrapped up with a beautiful bow, and I hope, I can only hope that we will soon see the truth contained in its ending within our own culture. Santa recognizes that Christmas can’t happen without Rudolph and his biologically diverse nose. No one else can lead the sleigh through the fog. Apologies are made and everyone can see how much they need Rudolph. The head elf discovers that a dentist could be a good and useful thing. The abominable snowman proves friendly and helpful when given a chance. And because of Rudolph, the misfit toys are sent out into the world to prove that they can be loved and they can provide joy and goodness to the world just by being what they were created to be. They are whole and complete as they are. So is Rudolph, who because of his difference, not in spite of it, saves Christmas for everyone.
So, in real life, let’s see this truth for what it really is. Let’s not mistake the hero of the story for a villain. Let’s not bully, ostracize, or even fear people just because they are different. Let’s think for ourselves and hold our leaders accountable for the mistakes they make, even if those mistakes are made with good intentions. Let’s embrace biological and cultural diversity as one of the most beautiful aspects of human life. Let’s recognize the wholeness in otherness, and not mistake it for brokenness. Let’s allow those who are different from us to use their differences to guide us through the fog of human unconsciousness.