“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou
When I was in high school, there was one Chinese girl in my class. I remember her well; in my hometown she was different. Today when I caught the train to pick up my own child from school, as a rabble of teenage students got on the train it occurred to me that if I was at school today, I’d stand out. My Celtic colouring would make me the different one. I love that. I embrace it. That schools today are filled with beautiful children from all over the globe, tall dark skinned African girls with dreadlocks tied back in a bow, Chinese girls chatting in Cantonese, sipping coffee and Lebanese boys slapping each other on the back, greeting by shaking hands. I love it so much that I’m probably one of the many, sitting on the sidelines cheering it on.
As I walk down the street and pass a dozen Korean eateries, Thai restaurants and Indian spice shops lined up in Sydney’s inner west, I think that maybe when we talk about multiculturalism, this is what we love. I wonder if we are really ok with what it means to embrace another person’s culture or indeed come to a country and fall in line with theirs. When I lived in India as an expat I got that, totally understood what it meant to sink into the melting pot and take on a little of the way things were done there, while being grateful for the tolerance to do my crazy Aussie white gal stuff like hide Easter eggs and bare my calves. I think there is always a little judgment when we talk about where people are from, mostly it’s harmless, but still we project these quirky stereotypes all the time, forgetting that each one is unique. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with these, but push a little further and surprisingly in a country like Australia where we’re all about the big communal hug, many people feel differently.
Sometimes it makes me wonder, are we all just faking it? Our acceptance of each other is put to question every day and our spirits provoked constantly. Every news headline screams for our attention and yet segregates us at the next turn. Despite our place as the planet’s most evolved species, we are its biggest bullies and threat to each others peace. We abuse our land and all of its creatures. No matter where we are, or where we go, we push ourselves and our quest for superiority into the space of others. Our greed for more land, more money, a bigger house, a better car or preserving our way of life has only made us more judgmental.
We give charity to the poor but how comfortable are we really to shake hands with the homeless? I wonder, are we just faking our generosity? We have compassion for people with special needs, yet all too often keep a distance from them on a train or in a restaurant. Are we just faking our empathy? We say that we’re ok with multiculturalism and speak out openly about democracy and freedom of speech, but really, are we just faking our tolerance? Surely acceptance is everyone’s responsibility. No matter where we are in the world, or what our circumstance, we are walking the same road of humanity with tolerance as our guide. By its very nature, it’s a two-way street.
There’s such an extreme gap between left and right that I wonder if this isn’t the bubbling of a greater conflict. Distinctly different ideologies, two emerging philosophies both born out of great collaborative thinking but completely opposed and I wonder where this is going. That we keep nourishing such opposing views and throwing criticisms at each other just keeps the divide growing more broadly and gives it more certainty. With social media, we can throw anything out there, and as we grow more and more steadfast in our views our thoughts become collective, gaining momentum and power. This great divide seems to have arisen from a lack of tolerance both ways; in trying to please other cultures the irony is that we’re not teaching others to be tolerant of our own. Truth is, we can no longer say it’s “us” and “them”; we either all sing the same song of tolerance or we all go down together. It seems that everyone’s fighting; even those who stand up for the people they call victims do so with such animosity that I can’t find the peace in any of their words either.
We were born empty handed and we will take nothing material from this earth when we die. So what are we all fighting for? While we keep giving so much energy to this negative voice of division, we’re in effect making it happen. It seems to me that universally we are saying one thing and doing another when it comes to peace; on one hand, we are moving towards global openness and yet still tussling centuries later over strips of land. Maybe it’s the karma of the world and if it’s ours too, then we’ll be caught up in the mess but how about we give energy to positive thinking about the world; we accept that each of us belong and at the end of the day we are all only transiting through as custodians, not keepers.
I wonder, when will we be happy with what we have? When will we start letting each other be instead of this constant rush to change everyone? Can we ever just allow each other to be who they want, dress the way they want to, be with whom they want to be with? At the end of the day it comes down to the simple adage, when will we start minding our own business? Imagine if we turned off all of our judgments for just one day and projected just the good stuff. If we swapped our fake tolerance for real understanding of each other, even just a little, then maybe we’d shift all the dark clouds. Only when we start respecting each other’s religious paths, values and beliefs, when we start respecting other species on this planet and we respect ourselves enough not to have to change each other, only then do we stand together in the circle of humanity.