"We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike." ~Maya Angelou

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Tolerance and Understanding

     I have been very aware of the uptick in violence since Election Day in November. I am talking about violence (verbal and physical) against minorities and against people of different religious beliefs and different gender identities. I worked with children for years and years, when I was teaching, and I did not see meanness between little children over those things. Little children do not judge people by how light or dark their skin, hair or eyes are. They do not judge people by clothing or size or ability. They experience everyone as they are and go right on.
    But they can be taught to dislike, or mistrust people who look, sound, smell, act different from themselves.  They learn to separate people into US and THEM, them being those who are different in some way. It happens at home, and in the car and at church and....everywhere. But, if they belong to a group, with people they see as different in some way, and they work together on something over time, those feelings of dislike and distrust can be broken down. 
    We distrust and are suspicious of what we do not know, or understand. We begin to think we are somehow better than those who look different, or act differently.  I wonder if human civilization will ever evolve past this huge stumbling block of personal ego; if we will ever learn to value the life and talents which reside within each one of us and celebrate our uniqueness.
      I understand, there are dangerous people in the world. There are people who, for whatever reason, would as soon kill you as look at you.  There are crazies out there, some who were born that way and some who were created by circumstance, and we should be aware and alert to danger. I understand and agree that children need to learn to avoid and/or deal with dangerous situations.  How do we teach them that without teaching them that everyone who is different from themselves is dangerous?
     We interact with people who look and act differently. We join a study group at church, or a choir, or an orchestra, or a swim team, or a cycling club, or a running club, or a book-club, or SOMETHING where we can interact with others who are not exactly like us.  We work together on projects that help our smaller and larger community.  We ask questions and we listen to the answers and then we go away and think about it alone, without letting someone else tell us what to believe. We listen to our own hearts and spirits, our better angels, as it were. We talk with people whom we trust; people who are wise and compassionate.
     If we make mistakes in our dealings with people, we go back and apologize and mean it. We stop right then, when we see their face change and their eyes change, and apologize for what we just said or did. We humble ourselves and admit we were wrong and ask forgiveness.  We just do it right then, right when we know we are in the wrong.  If we wait, we will lose our courage and make excuses for our words and they will harden within us.
    This is difficult work and it would be much easier to kick it on down the road to the next generation, but we mustn't do that. There is too much at stake. We really do need each other. Please, do what you can, where you are, with the people whose lives your life touches.  Seek connection and understanding. Standing by and being silent when hurtful words are spoken is not enough because silence really does imply consent. Be brave. I have a feeling we are going to need that kind of bravery more than ever before in the months and years to come.
      When you hear someone say something racist or homophobic say something back.
Do not laugh at racist or gender identity comments or jokes and do not remain silent.
Ask them: What do you mean by that? 
 Say to them: That kind of talk isn't helping.
Ask them: Has this person hurt you in any way? Are their beliefs or their way of life hurting you in some way?  

    As my sister used to say to her girls when they left the house in the morning:
Be a light, not a judge.


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