This past weekend, my kids’ school (The Westwood School) hosted Ruby Bridges to speak to our community. Ms. Bridges was the first black child in New Orleans to be integrated into an all white school. Her speech was beautiful, uplifting, insightful, saddening, frustrating and poignant all at once. She said something that I found interesting and got me thinking. Ms. Bridges said that just because someone looks the same doesn’t mean that they aren’t evil (implying also that just because someone looks different doesn’t mean that they are evil). She spoke of loving one another and not allowing us to harden our hearts against one another – and that this must start with us and how we raise our children.
In today’s society, we are too quick to put people (including ourselves) into one or more particular boxes based on various characteristics we do or do not share with others. We are grouping people just because they do something for a living, have a certain skin color, side with a particular political group – you name it and there seems to be a box for it. I’ve noticed that our groupings usually include assumptions about people that are often undeserved and incorrect. There are “good” boxes and “bad” boxes – and the good and bad boxes have a lot to do with the assumptions being made about these people without actually bothering to get to know them, their viewpoints, why they have them, and so forth. Who wants to connect with someone who’s different from them that might actually shatter assumptions we hold so dear?
When we group people like this, we tend to do three things. First, we forget that we are each individual beings with different life experiences that have made us who we are (and those differences are what make us each interesting and distinct). Second, we forget that we are each also part of one larger group. Human beings who want to connect with other people, love others and be loved ourselves. Thus, we are each very similar but unique in our own personal way. This is what makes human beings so wonderful. Finally, we are dehumanizing people when we put them into boxes based on various characteristics, traits, religious beliefs, political beliefs and so forth.
I feel like we have created for ourselves echo chambers of like-mindedness that does nothing but reinforce our views. Social media seems to have exacerbated this. People are less social (not more) – and much more narrow-minded and judgmental. It’s easy to dehumanize people who think differently than we do when we don’t deal with them in person (especially when our echo chambers back it up). It’s too easy to stay safe in our echo chambers, feeling smug and superior.
Before you start arguing with me that some people really do belong in the “bad” box, let me tell you something – most people are not bad or evil. Yes, people do make bad choices from time to time – but don’t we all? Most people deserve redemption. There is obvious evil in the world – murder, rape, terrorism, etc. But what I’m talking about isn’t about that at all – and I think deep down you know this.
We also see a lot of fear these days. The fear is palpable. I know a lot of people who seem to think that things are so very bad – as bad as it has ever been. I don’t want to burst your bubble or anything, but I’d like to offer some much-needed perspective. Don’t you think that the world has already weathered a number of terrible events? I’m certain people who lived in those times were afraid too. Things happen in the world that we don’t like and that are scary. I would suggest that you find a way to back off of the ledge and to temper that fear a bit. Don’t allow it to run rampant (and please try not to feed the fear troll on social media – those echo chambers are the absolute worst).
I think that we all need a bit of a time out right now to calm down and collect ourselves. Why? Because fear can bring out the worst in us. Allowing fear to take over can lead to hatred. And hatred hardens the heart in a way that is extremely difficult to reverse – even permitting evil to take over.
So what is the answer? Connect with other human beings (and I’m not talking about your close friends and family nor am I counting social media as a “real” connection). Talk to people when you are out and about – especially people who seem different than you. View them as fellow human beings who are just trying to live, connect, love and be loved. You may just find that some of these people you have made assumptions about aren’t quite what you thought they were. And how lovely would that be? Ms. Bridges was right: love of our fellow man is the only way out of this mess.
There is a picture of Michelle Obama and President George W. Bush that was recently taken at the National Museum of African American History and Culture opening. It has been all over the place, so I’m guessing that you’ve seen it (if not, go find it). This picture and the reaction to it is a perfect representation of what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, the vast majority of comments I’ve seen regarding this picture are negative – actually hateful would be a better word. And, of course, all of the hateful comments from people are about the person whose politics are opposite of the commenter. Why can’t we see both the First Lady and President Bush as human beings? Human beings who (just like us) hope, love and feel. Human beings who are deserving of connection and love just as much as we are.
When I wrote my post a few weeks ago about choosing to be beautiful (you can find it here), I meant it. To be beautiful is a choice. And that choice includes making room in your heart for people that are different than you and who don’t believe what you believe. I ask you to start loving other human beings. Love everyone – not just those you know well and those who think and/or look exactly like you do. Love is the only answer to the mess that we see right now. And guess what? You can be a part of the answer if you so choose. Until next time…