In the last year, I would assume that you have seen, read, or been a part of a debate regarding one of the following: Black Lives Matter, Breast Feeding, Trump, Transgender people, gun laws, Hillary, Muslims, Christians or some other major debate. I am not against these debates. On the contrary, I believe a healthy debate can change hearts and minds and require one another to open their minds and learn about beliefs outside of their own. That’s a good thing! It’s the lack of discussion and abundance of hostility that is causing me to lose sleep at night.
It is easy to cast off the unfamiliar as wrong, scary, freaky, weird or even dangerous. It is even easier to feed those fears, harvest them and eventually grow hatred. Those little seeds of fear grow fast and strong when fed. How simple it is to remain in our own little worlds. We discuss our fears and questions with friends who think and feel the exact same way, share memes and blog posts that share our own beliefs and make assumptions that we are in fact “right” and they are “wrong”. We all fall victim to hearing or reading an easy line or quote that validates our fears, and fail to recognize the phobia and falsehoods behind the words.
For just a moment, let’s forget about “right and wrong”. Forget about political and religious opinions and agendas. Let’s focus on people.
I grew up in a predominately white Christian southern town. There wasn’t much diversity, and while my parents told me to love others as myself and to be kind to everyone I meet, it wasn’t always easy. As much as I hate to admit it, I judged people who looked, felt, believed, dressed, talked and acted differently than myself. They were unfamiliar and unfamiliar is scary.
One of my college professors told me that you never truly understand a student until you meet their parents. Once you understand where the student is coming from and learn their history, you will gain compassion. I have never forgotten that lesson. I discovered it to be true for not only students, but all people. From then on, I decided to dig, to learn, to experience and to decide for myself what and who should be feared.
The way in which we respond to people different from ourselves, reflects our compassion for others and our willingness to learn about the world outside the small one in which we know and live. One does not have to compromise or change their beliefs in order to have compassion. All it takes is opening up your heart and accepting the fact that other’s beliefs are just as strong and true as yours. Their loves and lives and hopes and dreams are just as real as yours. Their pain, their struggles, their childhood, their traditions, their Gods, their heartbreaks and their fears are real. Agreeing with them isn’t necessary. but exemplifying respect and humanity is.
I understand the rants on Facebook. I may disagree with them, but I truly understand why people respond to others in anger. Fear. Fear feeds anger. It is easy and natural to fear the unknown. However, fear is the root of racism, sexism, xenophobia and homophobia. Fear is what is slowing tearing us all apart.
Over the last ten years I have been facing my fears by traveling the world and immersing myself in various different cultures. I lived and taught abroad for a year. I visited Mosques, became friends with Muslims, attended protests, studied the history and art of many countries, volunteered, joined support groups for at-risk teens in the LGBTQ community, visited the child of an illegal immigrant in a children’s hospital that saved her life, started an online campaign that raised thousands of dollars for the children of Syrian Refugees and most importantly kept an open-line of conversation with the new friends I’ve made over the years.
These new friends of mine are in so many ways nothing like me. We are different races, religions, sexuality and political parties. We are different, but we are trying to understand one another. We are looking for the best in one another. We are recognizing the good in others and learning that change starts within oneself. I am not free of judgement. The truth is, I have been judging my judgmental Facebook friends, which is no better. Often my knee-jerk reaction is to pop-off with a sarcastic response, but I am learning to recognize when I become hypercritical. I am trying to take a step back, reflect and learn. I do not want to add fuel to the already raging fire.
Today, I beg you, before you respond to anyone in anger, try to understand that person. Talk to them, ask them questions, help them, show them love and kindness, visit and share yourself with them. You may not agree with them, but maybe you will have some common ground. No surprise here, we all have a lot more in common than we realize. In fact, you might even make a new friend.