There’s a short moment before I open the newspaper when I brace myself for the worst. What’s going to be on the front page today? Another school shooting? A suicide bombing? Political unrest? Donald Trump rising in the polls?
Along with this feeling comes one of complete and utter helplessness. When terrible things happen, I can’t help but wonder how in the world we are supposed to protect ourselves and our families. And, how can I possibly effectively teach my children about kindness, sharing and inclusion when bad things keep happening and powerful politicians react by preaching the building of walls, racial discrimination and promoting homo- and trans-phobic policies?
So, after yet another mass shooting at a bar in Orlando, Facebook erupts with “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their friends and families. What else can we offer? Indeed, these messages are infused with the best of intentions, and provide an element of support in difficult times, but admittedly sound a little hollow in the face of this stream of constant tragedies. What else can we do?
As a wise muppet once said:
“Fear is the path to the dark side
…fear leads to anger
…anger leads to hate
…hate leads to suffering.”
When our kids are small, we encourage them to make new friends and try new things. We tell them Kindergarten will be great, that they’ll make so many new friends and learn so much. We bring them to a playground and encourage them to play with the lonely child in the sandbox. Then, we promptly turn around, retreat into our comfortable little exclusive circles and look away when something or someone makes us uncomfortable or tests our boundaries.
This. Must. Stop.
I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT THE SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE ACTION WE CAN TAKE IN THE FACE OF THESE TRAGEDIES IS TO EXAMINE OUR OWN IRRATIONAL BIASES, CONFIDENTLY STEP OVER THEM AND EMBRACE DIFFERENCES WITH OPEN ARMS.
Of course we all have biases and prejudices. They are part of human nature, and there’s actually an evolutionary purpose behind them. But, it is up to us to determine if our biases are based on reality or on ignorance. This takes work. For those of us who haven’t been directly affected by these issues, it is nice to pretend that prejudices don’t exist in our communities, but they do, and things can get worse. It is time to figure out what makes us uncomfortable, and meet it face on.
Who makes you uncomfortable? Teenagers? Gay People? Americans? Old people? Dentists? Christians? Atheists? Homeless people? Women? Muslims? Then, I suggest it is time to go meet some (Yes, even the dentist. Your teeth will thank you.). There are countless opportunities for volunteer work that can put you in touch with people from different cultures, income brackets, religions and ages. There are countless opportunities to welcome neighbours from different cultures, to start a conversation at a bus stop or to learn a little more about someone’s belief system. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s worldview or lifestyle, but a little understanding goes a long way towards conquering fear and building peace. I don’t teach my children about tolerance. I don’t like that word. I teach diversity and acceptance. Tolerance implies that differences are to be tolerated rather than celebrated. Tolerance implies superiority.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.
Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
When we are afraid, we can’t just build walls, or hand out assault rifles or discriminate against innocent people. We can’t just look away. We figure out the root of the problem. We embrace the beauty in diversity. We learn as much as we can. We do everything in our power make every single person feel welcome, comfortable, supported and included and we hold on for dear life to the hope that others will follow our example.
THIS is the way through fear. THIS is lesson that I want my children to learn.
“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
-Franklin D. Roosevelt
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