“I ask you to judge me by the enemies I have made.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt
Why so many enemies? Why so much division? Why so much pain? So many lost, misunderstood, trapped, and imprisoned. Why does the US pay half of the world’s two-trillion-dollar annual defense budget? And why are so many of our resources focused outside of the US when the people living within our nation are feeling so fractured, so fearful, so fragmented, so culturally and spiritually broken?
With those truths on the table, I hope that you’ll join me in a little challenge at the end of this post. It’s a challenge that will be difficult for many to grasp, and impossible for others. It’s a challenge to pause, and to imagine.
So many of my ponderings stem from my confusions as a child.
Confusions surrounding why I went to a Presbyterian church while my friends went to other churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples. We went to the same schools. We played on the same teams. But we were somehow different? How? I didn’t understand.
Confusions about why we, in the US, eat cows while Hindus see cows as sacred. Why do we love dogs and cats, when dogs and cats are a source of food in parts of Asia, and even Switzerland. How can our values change by simply spinning the globe 180 degrees?
Confusions about why a $700 purse is somehow “better” than a $25 purse, when they both serve the same purpose? Couldn’t we…shouldn’t we…use that extra $675 to truly , practically make a difference in someone else’s life?
By holding onto that innocence, that “child’s mindset,” I’ve struggled. I’ve struggled to understand why we forsake our similarities as human beings. Why do we forsake our common values, instead infecting the lives of our kids, or worse…each other’s kids, to perpetuate a world filled with judgement and division. This judgement, the judgement we’re taught, leads to divisiveness and isolation.
Divisiveness leads to confusion and conflict, war, death, and heartache for those left in its wake.
Isolation leads to loneliness, sadness, depression, death, and heartache for those left in its wake.
I know that if I took my teenage sons to another country, to another culture on the other side of the world, and I just let them be, eventually…they’d play. That’s what kids do. They’d find other kids, kids that looked and dressed and sounded different from them, and they’d play. They’d learn new games, and they’d share the ones we play here in the states. They’d eat new foods and talk about the foods they eat here at home. They’d learn, and grow, and share, because that’s what we do when we’re uninhibited and unjudged.
When we’re really young, we don’t see differences, or maybe I should say that we don’t judge them. We don’t assign a value or quality to them. We see different colors and different shaped eyes. We see different hair and different clothing, but we play together, boys and girls, black and white, rich and poor…together.
So when do we break it?
When do we smash that innocent nature inherent within each of us from the moment we’re born? When do we teach (and we are teaching it) our kids to judge others as fat or skinny or gross, or creepy or weird or better or worse or just different?
In an arbitrary moment in time, someone points out our differences. We lose our sense of belonging to and belonging with each other. Our sense of one-ness; connectedness is exchanged for our sense of self. We learn that “belonging” to a small group (same music, same shoes, same food, same faith, same ideology) is somehow greater than belonging to the big group that we all belong to; humanity.
Anyone that doesn’t fit in is somehow worse; lower than us. We learn that rather than having the courage to simply ask why, and the patience, care, and curiosity to grow, it’s better to keep judging and shut down.
“Why do you wear that weird thing over your hair?”
“Why do you have dirt on your forehead?”
“What happened to your legs?”
“Why don’t you eat meat?”
“Howcome your grandma and grandpa still live with you?”
As kids, we would ask these things freely. But right as our natural and necessary curiosities start to bloom, perhaps at the most formative moment in our lives…we’re scolded and chastised for our curiosity. We’re reprimanded by those we trust and love most.
“Don’t ask that! That’s their business, not ours. Keep your nose out of other people’s business!”
Then the doors to our freedom to choose…or not to choose…start to close. We teach our kids that somehow asking, wanting to learn about others, is a rude, sometimes a slap-worthy offense! That very clear message handed down from above can be summarize like this:
“Don’t ask. Don’t tell. Don’t care.“
My child-like mind still quietly asks…
“Please! Please. Will you tell me about Ash Wednesday? I don’t get it.”
“I want to know why you get presents all week before Christmas but I only have ’em on Christmas day.”
“Why do you wear that thing on your head, but not all the time?”
“How come your grandpa has his beard like that?”
“Were you born like that, or did you have an accident?”
These are natural curiosities. These are the types of questions that will, if encouraged, bring us together!
If we could ask, listen, and learn…wouldn’t we grow together? Isn’t the “why,” the reasons we do what we do, juicy part anyway? Isn’t it what we all want to know but we’re afraid to ask? Isn’t it natural?
Think for a moment about love. Those that love us best know us best. They know why we do what we do. They hurt for us when we’re down and they smile for us when we’re smiling. Isn’t that how compassion grows and where empathy comes from? Where the seeds of connection come from?
I’ll never forget learning from a Muslim woman, just how similar her values are to mine; how similar what she was taught as a little girl growing up in Iran was to what I learned as a little boy growing up in California. I felt connected to her that night. I felt that I had grown as a human being. I felt heartbroken that the lies of my culture and the lies of hers kept us apart for so long. I also felt lied to, mislead, and manipulated by those I was raised to trust. It reignited my child-like mind.
Yes, with a child’s mindset there’s an inherent and possibly dangerous naiveté, but, even just for the sake of argument, consider this.
Here’s my challenge:
Imagine…even just for five minutes.
Imagine what our world might look like if rather than investing funds and technology and energy and human lives into divisiveness and war, what if we made a conscious shift toward connection and unity? Imagine if, like a child, we didn’t “color in the lines” anymore? Imagine if we found the beauty that lies on the other side of smudged boundaries on our maps. Imagine if we all just looked at each other, looked into each others’ eyes and took a deep breath. Imagine if we slowly set down our egos and our identities and lifted our eyes to see the fears that we all share.
“What am I going to do?” “What if they can’t cure me?” ” What if my parents don’t accept me?” “What if I can’t provide for my kids?”
Imagine if we could see in others the pain that we’ve felt ourselves, and imagine if others could see the unique pain that each of us carry. Imagine if, with the look in our eyes, we could tell them, “I understand. I’m sorry. Can I do anything to help?” Imagine if we recognized that all we really want is what we all want and what we all deserve from the moment we’re born: The peace and security of knowing that we and our kids…and their kids…will live freely, happily, unencumbered by fear and oppression.
Yes, this is challenging for our egos and our identities because we’ve been tied to our power, our control, our “superiority” for decades.
If you’re like me, you’ve lost family members fighting over borders and swearing that the colors of our flag would never run. But imagine if they did. Could you imagine having enough faith in humanity to put down our flags? Take down our walls? Imagine what our days would be like, what the news would be like, if we stopped focusing on the skin deep differences between us and start seeing that what I want, what you want, what she wants…is all the same.
Imagine if we used just a fraction of the funds we use to develop and deploy weapons around the word on education. Imagine if we taught mindfulness and connection like we teach science. Imagine if we taught compassion and empathy like we teach math. Imagine if we taught how to cope and how to help others cope. Imagine if our next generation was the first generation that loved everybody.
Imagine, if not for you…for your kids, a time when nobody wants to hurt us anymore…because they love us, because we love them. Imagine the good we could do in the world if we no longer needed a defense budget, so we spent that money on healing and learning and understanding…and light…and love.
“Peace cannot be kept by force; it can only be achieved by understanding.”
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.”
“Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King, Jr.