A month into the new year and I am feeling…sad. Sad with intermittent injections of horror. It seems like we’re heading into a rabid era of judgement. Lines are being drawn so fast and furious, the whole world is getting as wrinkled as an elephant’s eyebrow.
Like ripples in a pond, we tend to see the outer rings first. We see the divisions created by religion, politics and government and we sadly shake our heads. The inner rings we see as “other” or “them”. They are the individuals who are at the root of all that is wrong with the world today. The ones that are keeping us from utopia. The ones stirring up the waters.
Of course, whichever side you are on, “they” are thinking the exact same thing about “us”.
The pebble, the thing that jumped into the water and put the whole thing into motion in the first place, is you. It’s me. It’s us.
I know. I don’t like it either.
But think about it. Every time we jump in fueled by a desire for justice, equality or even compassion, the exact opposite occurs. We just create more ripples, more lines and more division.
I’ve been watching a new Canadian sitcom called Kim’s Convenience. It follows a Korean family who own a convenience store in Toronto. The patriarch of the family is a lovable mix of strong opinions that often conflict with his good intentions, causing things to go awry.
Anyway, this episode I was watching showed a drag queen shopping at the convenience store under the curious eye of Mr. Kim. I am going by memory, so I won’t have this exactly right, but when it is time to ring up the purchases, Mr. Kim pauses in bagging the groceries, looks up at the man in drag and asks with sincerity, “Why you do this?”
At first the drag queen looks startled and then tense; a world of hurt about to break out on his beautifully made up face. Then there is a recognition of the genuine curiosity in Mr. Kim’s question.
“Oh,” he says, softening. “I…this is what makes me feel at home.”
As Mr. Kim considers the answer, you can see a light dawn and he slowly nods. He understands. They smile at each other.
What if we could just be curious about each other instead of judgmental?
And it goes both ways.
I am horrible to people I judge as homophobic. If that is how your thinking goes, your name goes directly onto my Asshole List. I don’t care how many kittens you might have saved or how many hours you devote to worthy causes. Same goes for any sort of racism or misogyny. Onto my Asshole List you go. That’s it. You and I will never be friends. This, despite my fondness for thinking of myself as a peaceful, kind, loving “good” person.
Faced with opposing views, I am unable to remain calm and curious. To simply ask, “Why do you think this?”
I become blind to the spark of good in you.
But if I could rein myself in enough to see that spark, then chances are you could do the same, and in that gap there is hope for real discourse, perhaps even friendship and ultimately, world peace.
At the very least, when there is mutual respect things are less likely to escalate out of control. There is far less chance of acting on our fears and prejudices by causing physical or verbal harm to another human being.
What is that saying…those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. In a time when there are unsettling parallels to events preceding the second world war, we could do worse than break from history. We could press pause and try something different.
There is a spark of good in everyone and maybe it’s time for all of us to pull our sparks out and hold them high. To show our sparks to each other and together light the world on fire with love.