Embracing Different

If there were a subtitle to this post, it would’ve said, “What almost being blown up at a Starbucks taught me.” And while that subtitle wouldn’t be totally accurate, it sure was how I felt in this particular moment.

A few months back, I was at a Starbucks with a friend. We were chatting and sipping on tea when another young woman around our age interrupted us. She smiled and asked if we could watch her laptop for her while she used the restroom. We smiled back and said “Sure!”.

As she walked away, I heard the mantra every airport and subway echoes endlessly, “Don’t watch other people’s belongings for them.” and “If you see something, say something.” I thought back to her ethnicity and realized she was of Arab decent. Then I glanced at her open laptop to see a movie that was paused, except…the movie had subtitles in Arabic.

At that moment, sheer panic set in.

I looked at my friend and voiced my concern. Internally, I was thinking about my loved ones and wondering if this is what it feels like moments before you’re blown to pieces. I didn’t know whether to run out the door, turn off the laptop, scream, or stay put.

I shut the laptop, and half seriously and half jokingly commented about hoping there wasn’t a back door exit. As my friend glanced to the back of the Starbucks, she glanced back to me and calmly told me there was indeed an exit where the young girl had walked. What was a mere few minutes felt like ages as I tried to figure out if this girl was a terrorist or just a trusting individual who saw two nice girls and thought she could trust them with her laptop.

I’m happy to say, she was the latter. She came back a few minutes later, thanked us, and took her laptop back as she settled in with her coffee and enjoyed her movie.

I felt horrible. I wondered what kind of person I was that my first instinct was to assume this nice girl was a terrorist, simply because she was of Arab decent and liked to watch Arabic movies. Had the movie been in Spanish, Italian, or French, I wouldn’t have thought twice. Maybe I would have, but I doubt I would’ve been as concerned.

It’s been months since that event and I still can’t get it out of my mind. I’m convinced now, more than ever, that we are a divided people because of the media infiltration we’re surrounded by.

We’re told not to watch other people’s belongings when they ask. We’re told to always be on guard for terror whether it be a backpack left accidentally or a piece of luggage. We’re skeptical of strangers who are broken down on the side of the road, for fear it could be a trap to lure people in. The evening news has become an hour that starts off with them saying, “Good evening” and then proceeding to tell you the million and one reasons why it isn’t good.

Day after day, we hear of murders, rapes, violence, shootings, and terror. It’s no wonder people keep to themselves, don’t reach out to help strangers, and are always thinking the worst of people. It’s no surprise why there is so much racial division. There is so much hate, but I want to propose an idea to you.

Is it possible there is so much hate, because there is so much fear? If you dug deep into the reasons people hate certain groups, races, religions, etc. you would probably find that most of their reasoning is rooted in ignorance and fear.

I remember someone telling me almost a decade ago, that working for Jews could be rough. As a “goy” (read: non-Jew), and as a female, I was told I could expect to be mistreated and not appreciated. This was told to me the week I was offered a job at the company I’ve been with…for the last 8 years! They treat me better than any boss I’ve ever had and having met their Jewish friends over the years, I have an even deeper love for the Jewish people. Even now, I’m sitting in a Starbucks and there are two Jewish girls laughing and enjoying their drinks. My heart aches, wishing I could tell them that there are people who care about them and their people as a whole.

So here’s the question friend: How do we change this? How do we change our siloed outlook on life that says we should keep to ourselves and “our” people? How do we change the perspective from “our people” to “all of us are equal”?

It pains me so much to see so many people groups feeling and acting as though they are not welcomed in each other’s circles. It hurts me to see someone of a different ethnicity with their head down when they pass me, outwardly afraid to make eye contact because they don’t know how they’ll be received.

I’m ashamed at my first reaction to that sweet Arab girl. I wish I had, instead, inquired about what brought her or her family to the US initially or what she was studying or just talked to her like a human being! Lately, my eyes have been opened to how beautiful the human race is and how much more equal we are than we give each other credit for.

Yes, maybe our struggles are different, but our hearts aren’t. Our hearts beat the same blood as the refugee in Syria or the imprisoned believer in Pakistan. We have the same amount of bones in our body as the Mexican immigrant or the Jewish soldier. We have the same emotions of fear, love, and hope as the man who speaks a language you don’t understand or the woman who has a disability.

Why then do we carry this belief that we’re better? Why then do we inherently close off our circle to those who are so-called “different”? I have news for you friend.

Different is beautiful.

Without differences, life is boring. If we all wore the same outfit, had the same color hair, lived in the same house, and all had the same job, life would be BORING.

Differences make life exciting. Differences make life intriguing. Differences make life an adventure.

Different doesn’t mean weird, odd, or wrong. Yet, society has made it out to be. Leaders have made people with differences feel weak or have told the majority that the world ought to be rid of those with differences.

But WE have the power to change that. Imagine if every ethnic group reached out to someone outside of their circle and told them they were welcomed. Imagine if every religion loved people regardless of their belief and accepted them as humans, first and foremost. Imagine if every person, regardless of their preconceived notions, first recognized the humanity of each and every person, instead of closing off their circle to differences and further dividing the human race.

Imagine if instead of focussing on our differences, we focussed on what brings us together. And imagine what we could accomplish to make this world a better place if we were unified, rather than divided.

Imagine.

Do you see it? Can you picture it?

Wonderful.

Now?

Act on it.

Love,

Manda

 

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