Listen to Your Enemies

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If you hear them out, if you’re brave enough to really listen to their story, you can see that more often than not you might’ve made some of the same choices if you’d lived their life instead of yours.

~Amaryllis Fox~

When I was in fourth grade, I moved to a new school in Greece, New York. I never thought much about religious differences before that but quickly learned that Barnard School across the street from St. Charles School was a “Protestant school.” Eventually I learned that they taught not just Protestant students but a great variety of students with many backgrounds. Although I never heard it mentioned in the classroom, somehow it became common knowledge among us that its students were inferior to us Catholics. We would visit their playground only when their school was not in session. We also believed that Black people were inferior to us. There was little opportunity to test this belief since there were no Black students in our school, at Barnard School or anywhere in Greece as far as I knew.

After grammar school, I spent nine years in a Catholic seminary and monastery. Here I also had no experience with anyone of a different religion or race. There was also a complete lack of anyone of the female gender.

After leaving the seminary, I found myself at the University of Buffalo where I discovered a wonderful variety of people from all religions, races, ethnic backgrounds and sat next to a girl in my first university class. My college years gave me a chance to meet the world and its representative inhabitants.

One of my first dates was with a girl whose last name was Luther. I speculated that she might be Protestant but her beauty, charm and kindness left me with no concern at all about her religious background.

Now, many years later, I find myself in a country made great by its immigrants to whom we owe its survival and prosperity. Yet now many of us feel threatened by migrants who come to this country for the same reasons our ancestors did. I also feel surrounded by people who hate others with varying political beliefs, religions, race and sexual identity.

In trying to make sense of this state of affairs, I came to realize that the hatred I see is usually motivated by fear of others who seem different. They are seen as taking jobs or other benefits people want for themselves. Yet poor immigrants, no matter what their background, come here for a chance of survival for themselves and their families just as most of our ancestors did.

The same hatred extends to people with different ways of life. Why we should hate people who differ from us remains a mystery to me. Maybe some people feel they would be more comfortable if everyone around them was just like them. Yet progress never seems to arise from everyone thinking the same way. Different ideas create a challenge for all of us to find better ways to live. Yet we will never find out what others think or how they can contribute to our lives by fearing, hating and avoiding them. Maybe we need to put aside our fiercely held prejudices and learn to listen to others we have come to see as enemies. Maybe they want the same things we do and might have some good ideas about attaining them.

Action Steps 

  • Learn to understand your fear of others and of the unknown.
  • Read about others’ way of life.
  • Take the opportunity to listen to others’ life experiences.
  • Do this especially with those different from you.
  • Look for what you have in common.

 

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What Communities Can Do about Violence

Revenge and retaliation always perpetuate the cycle of anger, fear and violence. ~Coretta Scott King~

What makes people violent? There are many contributors including poverty, discrimination, lack of respect and feeling insignificant in society. You can read more about these in my book, From Violence to Peace. I wrote recently about what individuals can do personally and what they can do in their relationships and families to reduce the likelihood of violence. Now it is time to consider what communities can do.

A community is a group of people living together in one place. Some communities can boast of people living harmoniously and agreeing on ways to keep it that way. In recent years, community spirit has been less evident and it is now fairly common to see locally the same divisiveness which pervades countries and relationships among countries. We will look at that next time.

Communities can make a difference in the quality of life for their residents. They can help see that all community members have their basic needs met: a safe and decent place to live, enough food for their families, acceptance as worthwhile human beings, and a way to feel competent and important. This is nice in theory, but does it happen in reality?

Many communities have started programs helping their less fortunate citizens meet their basic needs such as community dinners, food banks, clothing centers and free clinics. Rides are available to medical and other appointments. These are just a few examples of what some communities are doing. News programs have lately been making a point of celebrating community as well as individual efforts to make life better for their fellow citizens.

While these are great steps, much more could be done if everyone in a community decided to help everyone feel important in some way. Some contributions are not expensive and cost no money at all. How people greet each other (or don’t) makes both of them feel a little better or a little worse. You can help people feel more worthwhile by how you treat them. How would you feel if others in your community saw you as a lesser form of creature, a second class citizen or an embarrassment?

All of these are steps to creating a culture in which your neighbors can improve their standing in their own eyes and in the opinion of those with whom they rub elbows during the course of the day. People who start to feel better about themselves are also less inclined toward violence. Isn’t that worth the effort?

Action Steps

  • What can you do in your daily interactions to help improve the quality of life in your community?
  • Can you contribute some of your time, effort or money to help support a community program?
  • Can you help start a program for a need not being addressed?
  • Consider how you and your children might be more accepting to those whose lives differ from yours.
  • Think of ways you can help others feel more worthwhile.