Painted signs with opinionated messages. Bullhorns on street corners amplifying one version of truth or the other. A protest against those who are not privileged enough to be called “us”.
Too often we rally against those who are different. Their differences are the fodder of our hate while our lack of understanding and empathy is the very oxygen breathing life into the flame of indifference, unkindness, and disregard. When we become comfortable with the idea of placing people into inferior categories, the substance of our differences can adopt many faces: cultural, racial, sexual preferential; gender, occupation, shape, fashion. Doesn’t matter. Our prejudices will hone in on the divisive and equate it with the negative, the wrong, and the less than.
Our hatred doesn’t need to be told how to play. He always finds a way.
However, I open my eyes to the world around me and diversity is absolutely everywhere. Like, to the point of intention. Our differences don’t need to be bricks in the walls we build. They need to be the reason we Berlin these walls down. We were created diverse. To be against diversity is to be untrue to who we are and how we were made.
Tearing down the walls of my own prejudice and self-righteous judgment is precisely why I choose to travel.
A Day at the Beach
I spent last Saturday at Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast of Australia. Too bad I was working. But the opportunity gave me a unique space to observe the comings and goings of several thousand of my close friends. As I did so, three aspects of diversity kept washing over me like the waves I longed to touch but could only appreciate from a distance.
Thousands crossed my sight over the course of the day. Thousands out of billions. A few grains of sand scattered across the beach stretching out for miles. Then there was me. One. A small part of something big going on. A blip on the map of a history propagating my current thoughts and one which will unfold long after I cease thinking.
I felt small.
It’s a rather ironic feeling considering I spend an inordinate amount of time with me at the center of my world. My comfort, my feelings, my desires, my successes. Me, without so much as a thought for these around me.
The reflection was welcomed. Here I am, one among many, doing my small part at partnering with them to make this world the best place it can be, for all of us. Most of them I will never know and they’ll never know me. Most I will never meet. Most will not be privy to my attempts at spreading hope. But maybe, if we each understand and play our part, our feeble contributions can amount to a grand story worth telling.
Thousands of people with a thousand accounts of sheer joy. Thousands of first kisses. Thousands of secrets unknown by any. Thousands of choices yet to be made. Thousands who know the pain of betrayal and loss and heartache. Thousands of combinations for favorite movies and foods and music.
I watched. And before my eyes strolled a world united by a shared humanity bridging whatever gaps our hatred would dig up. Funny how the building blocks of our diversity actually attest to a building built by shared hands. No matter what each brick consists of, each person knows what it feels like to hold a brick in their own hands.
And our building would not be the same were any to withhold their contribution.
We find what we’re looking for. If we determine to notice the differences in people and dismiss them on that account, there truly is no end to our desolate hearts. But if we insist on embracing all as fellow sojourners, learning to have compassion, speak empathy, and walk alongside, then our vision will begin shifting to a world where hatred is edged out by unity.
We fight for each other rather than against, because if enough bricks crumble, the whole building topples.
Thousands of strangers whom I found it very easy to love. How could I not? I was part of the story with them. I know joys and pain just as they do. Mustn’t they also be ascribed with the same worth decreed for me? They are human, they are loved, they love.
But it’s easy to love people when we don’t really know them, isn’t it?
It’s when we start picking up on their annoying habits and grating personality traits; when we share enough experience with them to be hurt and to wound; that’s when love is put to the test. The challenge of love is to keep the vision of worth, of commonality, and of wholeness when the scope moves from an expansive billion to an intimate few.
And it must. We simply cannot sustain such a large scale of friendship or interaction. When we talk about traveling the world, we’re talking about the expansive view. We have large dreams full of ideal situations and enchanting notions of what awaits.
But what awaits is specificity.
That cab driver having a bad day. This shop owner who made your favorite piece of jewelry. Those flight attendants on the plane, these tour guides. The further we go into our dreams, the more skin they take on until we’re left with a set of experiences only moldable by faulty remembrances.
Diversity beckons us to love specifically. To put flesh on our ideals. A more difficult path than anything our hatred can offer.
So why do it, then? Why walk the difficult path? Why travel and seek diversity when I’m happy keeping myself at the center, thank you very much?
We can stay there in a passive state of normalcy, no challenges in our predictable world, no need to look at others as anything but means to our own comfort and happiness. We can keep them out of sight, out of mind, out of our realm of concern. We can surround ourselves with those who uphold our standards and share our morals and fall in line with our expectations. We can, and often do, just that.
There is a deeper level of existence, a wellspring of life for those willing to look outside of themselves. Where compassion and humility and understanding are all waiting for us to take hold of their innate beauty so we may learn the wisdom of their secrets. Where meaning is found in our contributions rather than our control. In seeking out diversity, not just passively enduring it, we discover the riches of the world outside ourselves. We are gifted with the choice of a better way to live as we incorporate the experiences of diversity.
So put away the signs. Set the bullhorn down. And join in the crazy, sundry party.
It’s how we were made.