I have been thinking a bit lately about how divided our world is over just about any topic you can think of. Via email and facebook I daily receive messages purporting one agenda or another. I get the whole gamut apparently because I have such a broad base of friends and contacts...and of course I am active out there sending out my opinions and thoughts such as with this blog.
These daily messages come from varying ideologies...Republicans versus Democrats; Christians vs Muslims; East vs West; socialists vs capitalists; Latins vs Gringos; blacks vs whites; whites vs Indians; liberals vs conservatives; pro-lifers vs abortionists; rich vs poor; dog vs cat...you get the picture. The world is divided in various categories and then divided again by race, poverty, geographic and man-made borders, language and sex. As the world becomes more and more a cultural melting pot, the lines between many of these divisions are blurring...and many people in the world aren't too happy about that. They fight for the "status quo" of their historic presuppositions though many of those may be hyper hypocritical and unfounded.
It is my experience that most of the world population spends their whole lifetime in their own backyards with their own kind...hardly ever straying more than 25 miles from where they were born. Of course, some of us are the extreme opposite where for whatever reasons we see fit to travel further and further from our roots in pursuit of understanding all there is to understand out there...and primarily to understand "difference". I personally have found it very fulfilling to have traveled and lived in various regions of my own country (USA) as well as traveling and living in other continents...primarily Latin America. Through this lifetime of meeting and living with a wide variety of people...I have come to the conclusion that beyond all our perceptions of "difference", we humans really are more ALIKE than different.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why when we first meet people we tend to notice what's "different" about them than how we are alike? I'm sure there are many psychological and pathological reasons for this tendency...but while I'm not sure we aren't born with this curiosity for "difference", I think it is possible to transcend this reality with some rationality. While each person is in my mind a "unique" and different creation of God's mind ...we all have some level of these commonalities:
Everyone wants to be loved and accepted...
Everyone needs attention
Everyone needs to eat
Everyone needs encouragement
Everyone needs hope
Everyone prefers pleasure to pain
Everyone prefers peace to conflict
Everyone wants to be respected
Everyone responds positively to a smile and helpful hand
Everyone needs some form of mutual physical contact/warmth
Everyone responds to sincere praise
Everyone has an opinion and a story to tell if you have time to listen
When you really analyze it, we humans are more alike than different. Sure, we look and "act" different in many ways...but I'm not sure "act" is a meaningless word. I think we learn to "act" at a very early point in life in order to get attention or compete for affection. Many of us continue to "act" a role or part that may not come natural to us at all. I might suggest that a majority of us are tainted and untrue to our natural selves because of false pretenses we have been brought up acting out. Many of us have experienced painful rejection or criticism early and consistently in our lives to where we "act out" in response. Many of us become bitter, addicted to substances that temporarily relieve us, retreat into our painful solitude, our cocoon of "safety" from risking further humiliation...and continue our lives in quiet denial of our humanity and true desires. While much of the world may live in that reality, I don't believe it was our natural bent from the beginning.
The challenge in life is understanding our need and challenge for re-educating ourselves on how to communicate, love and accept humanity without conditions and expectations that they think look or act just like us. We grow up thinking that we are stronger if we join a certain popular group...if we are accepted by attractive, wealthier people...well, we must be one, right? Some of us have grown up in such difficult hardships that we think no one else can understand or share our pain and insecurity. And if we were honest about that pain and insecurity, we might not be accepted by the group of peers we think we must be accepted by. For many of us, our reasons for our actions or behaviors are so buried in our subconscious, we are not consciously able to define why we live the way we do. We just do...and we don't want to deal with the "why".
Many of our tendencies for screwed up thinking have their root in our childhood and/or adolescence. Most of us had family or friends as we were growing up who were dominant in telling us what to think or feel about many things, including ourselves. If someone told you enough times "you are stupid", it is a human tendency to start believing them if it was someone in authority over us like a parent or teacher. It is my perception that our world is warped psychologically through generations of negative and hateful messaging...most of which was not true. Our perceptions of "others"...whether they be of another race, religion or sex...are usually tainted by 2nd or 3rd hand information versus any direct experience with those others. When you extrapolate this reality to those occasions where you can remember interacting for the first time with someone from another race or religion...both parties in that first interaction were probably living up to their stereotypes and mis-perception in harmony to the other. In most cases, those differences were never given the chance to be filed where they belong...in the "junk" file. We just accepted the data "as reported".
Those of us who are/were racist, anti Semitic, sexist, homophobic, etc etc are pretty much just running the pattern of humanity for millenniums without stopping to wonder how this can all be reversed or changed for the better. Here are a few things I try to always keep in mind when challenged by "otherness" in life...
-There is never a good reason to have "pride" in my race, religion, education or appearance. I had no choice in the early stages of those pursuits...and but for "fate" I could be in the same shoes and background as the person standing next to me.
-I should not compare myself with anyone else when it comes to appearance, money, or success. I should only compare myself with my known self potential...and if I am not anywhere near my own potential, I only have myself to blame. If I want to change that...I can, but I shouldn't blame or be bitter at other people in my life for my circumstances. "As a man thinketh...so is he".
-I cannot control how others perceive or receive me...but I can try and influence that outcome to the best possible connection by being kind and reasonably open about and with myself ("with" containing emotion or sentiment instead of just words and information).
-By listening and observing others, I can always find something positive I have in common with them. This can be with saints or sinners, men or women, old or young, rich or poor. When I have tried, I have always been able to identify at one level or another with anybody I have met. They may not have felt likewise...but that's their problem:).
-I can also choose to impress upon people how "different" I am from them. I can try and impress them with talents I have that they don't...possessions I have that they don't, etc. Yet, I have not found that an effective way to share and care at a human level nor does it promote lasting relationships. When I focus on the things we have in common...that is when the magic of relationship happens.
-FEAR is our biggest handicap towards connecting with others. We fear rejection because we have allowed our egos to be so fragile. We fear intimacy because we don't want commitment...we are selfish. We fear being alone, yet we fear intimacy more. Most of that is caused by unrealistic expectations of others to meet OUR needs.
While I don't count myself a "religious" man, I still have great respect for "Judeo Christian" ethics. I find many biblical teachings still at the core of my relationship values...and I share a few of them here in closing related to commonalities among humans...
So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.(Matthew 7:12)
And summing up the human condition, I think anyone sane in the world would respond positively to this powerful passage if they took it to heart:
The Love Chapter, Corinthians 13
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. 11When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
May we all find our commonality in the pursuit, expression, giving and taking of love and acceptance...even amidst our differences and "otherness".