Some say we are hitting an exhaustion factor when it comes to thinking about America’s “new reality.” OMG…if I have to read or hear ONE MORE THING about the presidential election, I’m going to lose it! Enough already!
But if this whole experience has taught us anything, it’s that any time you throw your hands up and say, “I’m out,” you lose whatever chance you had to make a difference.
And then we’re all screwed.
I’m definitely exhausted with the hate speech, name-calling, and attempts to make the gaps in our collective understanding wider. Any amount is too much—and yet we keep learning of more occurrences daily.
But the reality that people feel angry, defensive, vulnerable, alienated…that isn’t going to go away or change unless we act.
News flash: We have differences.
News flash: But they don’t have to break us.
In fact, depending on how we accept them, they can help us see that even in our differences, as Maya Angelou said, “We are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.”
Now, some won’t want to be alike at all. Some will have too much hate and fear in their hearts to want to find common ground. But I think those people are overwhelmingly outnumbered by those who want something better.
“The very least you can do in your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof.”
But what do we do to better understand our differences and move forward?
As I’ve shared before, I have a problem with the concept of “tolerance.” Tolerance implies “permission” from an “authority” or “sympathy” for the different. I find it patronizing. We must work for life beyond tolerance and strive for acceptance.
This past weekend, I experienced a wonderful example of just that. My family and I attended an open house at a local mosque.* The event was intended as a way to “know your Muslim neighbor”—and over 500 people from the community attended.
It was an amazing outpouring of love coupled with a desire to build bridges of communication and understanding.
I didn’t go there with a blank slate regarding the Islamic faith. I’ve had Muslim friends for most of my life, taught students who were Muslim, and have an elementary understanding of the religion.
But I’d never been in a mosque—and I’d never had so much shared with me about the many aspects of the faith. I think most importantly, though, while I have had conversations with Muslim friends about our different faiths, I had never experienced such a vast appreciation and openness about those differences—from all sides.
Part of the magic came from the Muslim community wanting to reach out and share—and part of the magic came from the non-Muslim community wanting to listen, learn, and affirm that we are in support of one another.
The leaders of the event as well as many in the community were openly moved at the outpouring of love they felt. I can only imagine…truly. I’m not threatened with being put on a registry or banned—or ostracized because I choose to dress in a way that respects my religion.
One of the speakers shared how his daughter had recently come home and said that, while she was wearing her hijab, another woman smiled at her—and it made her whole day. The speaker choked up as he shared that it is little things like that that make a big difference in how the Muslim community feels accepted as a part of our country.
That spoke volumes to me. If a simple smile makes that much of an impact, what does that reveal about where we are with one another? Smiles shouldn’t be exceptional, should they?
No wonder the sense of gratitude was palpable.
It was just one small step, but my hope deepened by being a part of that experience.
America is a vast country built on principle freedoms that are based in fairness and equality. Sometimes we have to fight for those freedoms when they are being threatened by fear. Now is the time to take a stand and not let fear gain any more ground.
Step by step, when we offer open hearts and open minds, we can make great things happen. We can knock down walls of ignorance and create those bridges of understanding. We can do more than merely tolerate one another…we can accept each other…maybe even celebrate each other. Differences included.
We all came in on different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.
~Martin Luther King Jr.
*I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the people of Masjid Al-Huda. My family and I couldn’t have felt more welcomed and appreciated. It was indeed a special day.