“Only the weak are cruel. Gentleness can only be expected from the strong.”~Leo Buscaglia.
Picture me at ten years old, the only little white girl in a rural Jamaican school, convinced I could fit in if only I could speak like a Jamaican. One of the realities of our lives is that we can only see it from the inside out. Perhaps the advent of the ubiquitous cell phones with their ability to record everything will change this going forward. But for the most part we go through life unable to see how we appear to others. I was fortunate to have been dropped into this different environment when I was young enough that I did not see how different I was. I just wanted to blend in.
The truth is that human beings have everything in common. We have the same body systems and organs, have the same basic needs and wants, develop physiologically in the same way. Socioculturally we may have different habits and styles of dress, worship different gods, prepare our foods in different ways, but this diversity should be a cause for celebration, not fear. Unfortunately, since our early days, we have used little symbols of ‘otherness’ to separate, to divide, to oppress and take advantage of.
Compassion begins with finding common ground. How are we the same? When we look at a person in a wheelchair do we see them first as other, looking down at the person who spends their day looking up, a permanent power imbalance? One of the designs it has been great to see is a wheelchair which can propel a paralyzed person into a standing position, so they can reach objects in raised cabinets, can greet others at eye level. It levels the playing field, so that at least in appearance they are not other. When we see a person who may be transgender, instead of wanting to know the person inside the skin, we spend our time wondering about things that are none of our business. The whole reason they went through the process is because they felt as if they were living a lie, living as someone they were not.
If we want to live in a better world, we have to begin from where we are, challenging ourselves to be better people, looking for ways to grow and evolve. Human beings are fortunate. We can learn by observation, we do not have to have every experience in order to learn from it. That is why there are self-help books, and now we have YouTube videos for everything. If you want to try a new complicated dish, or a new craft, you can watch someone give a step by step demonstration of how to do it.
So we have no excuse. We can learn new tricks, no matter how old of a dog we are. If we start from where we are. But we have to start. We have been given an opportunity at this point in history to demonstrate who we are as a people. In the face of ignorance and divisiveness it is simple to retreat, to react, to shut down.
Facebook has given us the ability to be aware of the thoughts and activities of many people. Ten, fifteen years ago we would be unaware of how our old school friends were doing, what they were up to, how many kids they have. But now we can touch base, check in on a host of people, both friends and strangers, and read how they feel about life in general. Our words spread out like ripples. False information can reach far before it is corrected. Negativity can infect more than just those in our immediate vicinity.
We have to look for ways to move forward, to find common ground instead of highlighting differences. The other day I read postings about activism. There were two groups of people who had the same aim, but differed on how to accomplish their goal. Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the strength that can come from uniting to attack a common cause, the disagreement became ugly, it devolved into name calling and hostility.
This Friday morning as we wake up with an opportunity to appreciate the blessings of a new day, I hope you can challenge yourself to look at someone who is ‘other’ and see instead ways that we are the same. And I hope you dance! This week I saw a report on the benefits of dance both to stave off Alzheimer’s dementia, and to improve the lives of those with dementia. It may be that we have to take up ballroom dancing, since apparently it is the act of having to make rapid-fire decisions and follow a partner’s lead that helps our brains develop alternate pathways, they call it neuroplasticity. We have to dance!
On this nippy South Florida morning I send loving thoughts to those who have to deal with the white frozen north. Have a wonderful weekend Family!