“If you hear them out, if you’re brave enough to really listen to their story, you can see that more often than not you might’ve made some of the same choices if you’d lived their life instead of yours.”
When I was in fourth grade, I moved to a new school in Greece, New York. I never thought much about religious differences before that but quickly learned that Barnard School across the street from St. Charles School was a “Protestant school.” Eventually I learned that they taught not just Protestant students but a great variety of students with many backgrounds. Although I never heard it mentioned in the classroom, somehow it became common knowledge among us that its students were inferior to us Catholics. We would visit their playground only when their school was not in session. We also believed that Black people were inferior to us. There was little opportunity to test this belief since there were no Black students in our school, at Barnard School or anywhere in Greece as far as I knew.
After grammar school, I spent nine years in a Catholic seminary and monastery. Here I also had no experience with anyone of a different religion or race. There was also a complete lack of anyone of the female gender.
After leaving the seminary, I found myself at the University of Buffalo where I discovered a wonderful variety of people from all religions, races, ethnic backgrounds and sat next to a girl in my first university class. My college years gave me a chance to meet the world and its representative inhabitants.
One of my first dates was with a girl whose last name was Luther. I speculated that she might be Protestant but her beauty, charm and kindness left me with no concern at all about her religious background.
Now, many years later, I find myself in a country made great by its immigrants to whom we owe its survival and prosperity. Yet now many of us feel threatened by migrants who come to this country for the same reasons our ancestors did. I also feel surrounded by people who hate others with varying political beliefs, religions, race and sexual identity.
In trying to make sense of this state of affairs, I came to realize that the hatred I see is usually motivated by fear of others who seem different. They are seen as taking jobs or other benefits people want for themselves. Yet poor immigrants, no matter what their background, come here for a chance of survival for themselves and their families just as most of our ancestors did.
The same hatred extends to people with different ways of life. Why we should hate people who differ from us remains a mystery to me. Maybe some people feel they would be more comfortable if everyone around them was just like them. Yet progress never seems to arise from everyone thinking the same way. Different ideas create a challenge for all of us to find better ways to live. Yet we will never find out what others think or how they can contribute to our lives by fearing, hating and avoiding them. Maybe we need to put aside our fiercely held prejudices and learn to listen to others we have come to see as enemies. Maybe they want the same things we do and might have some good ideas about attaining them.
• Learn to understand your fear of others and of the unknown.
• Read about others’ way of life.
• Take the opportunity to listen to others’ life experiences.
• Do this especially with those different from you.
• Look for what you have in common.