“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
As humans, we try to understand things by categorizing, labeling and placing them into a “box”. When it comes to individuals, some of those labels or boxes include: homelessness, different religions, racial contrasts, cultural distinctions, political affiliations, economic stations, intellectual abilities, and gender differences. We can find as many boxes as there are people to categorize; the list can go on and on.
Once we put someone in a box, if it deviates from ours, we may come to fear or hate them because we don’t feel comfortable with what we don’t know or understand.
On December 2nd, the day of the San Bernardino shooting, I happened to be at Wal-Mart. While waiting in line at checkout, I noticed that my cashier was the woman wearing a headscarf. Nothing unusual, she has worked at our Wal-Mart for some time as I’ve seen her many times before. She is an attractive, soft spoken and friendly person with a beautiful smile that she shares freely. The thing that struck me as odd this day was how her countenance had changed. She appeared to be nervous and her demeanor was that of apology. Her beautiful smile was replaced with an anxious grin. Then it hit me; somehow she was made to feel that the terrorist attack that had taken place thousands of miles away was her fault. It broke my heart to think that someone may have done or said something derogatory to her because she chooses to wear her religion on the outside. That she is now grouped with a horrendous act accomplished by sick people that she doesn’t even know. I wanted to hug her and let her know that she is welcome here. I wanted to tell her that she is valued for who she is and what she has accomplished, not the actions of others. Of course, I didn’t do any of those things. But I tried to be friendly and gave my most sincere smile while we interacted. I wanted her to know that I was not someone to judge her based on others’ heinous deeds.
I saw her again, just the other day. And while the headlines of last month have faded away to be replaced by other disasters and scandals, the prejudice for this woman continues. While waiting in the adjacent line, I overheard her answering questions from a customer in regards to where she’s from, how long has she been here, and why did she settle in TX? She answered him directly and cheerfully. I thought to myself, who is he to ask her such questions? If she had turned around and asked him the same questions what would his response have been? And yet, maybe this is his way of trying to understand, maybe get to know her on some level so he wouldn’t find cause to place her in a box.
When we categorize and stereotype we miss the bigger picture. We lose sight of the fact that we are all different. It is through these differences that our lives become richer, more interesting and complete. We also fail to remember that we are all the same. People of the human race – each placed on this earth with divine potential, purpose and ability for growth and with trials, suffering and sickness.
Some of you may say, “Well, the world is going to hell in a hand basket. There is no stopping it. Evil abounds, morals are non-existent, and respect is replaced with scorn and mocking.” I find it interesting that in every culture and religion throughout time there has been the philosophy of black and white dualism. Yin/Yang, good/evil, light/darkness. Even in Westerns you always knew the good guys from the bad by what color hat they wore. There will always be evil and there will always be good. The challenge that each of us encounter on a daily basis is this: which side of the coin will we allow to face up when tossed about by public opinion, tragedies and discrimination?
I love the thoughts expressed by Gandhi; he made it his life’s mission to heal our hearts and minds through loving actions. I think of Mother Teresa, who wore out her life going about doing what she could to alleviate suffering and hunger. I admire Martin Luther King, who boldly stood for equality and human rights. They were each just one individual; they were alone at times in their efforts. Yet their light became a beacon that others follow to this day.
How can I, just one individual, make a difference? My goal is to be a little kinder, more compassionate, more forgiving, more accepting of others. I don’t have to be swayed by every philosophy that comes my way. I can stand for truth and right with dignity and purpose. I can realize the potential in others and provide relief even if it’s only through a kind word or a smile. I can do more by becoming aware of those around me and impart of my love and, when needed, aid.
As I enrich my life and the lives of others, I will come closer to reaching my divine potential – the ability that God has given each of us to become like Him. And who knows, I may even learn something new in the process.