Last Sunday morning my family was relaxing around the TV catching Olympic volleyball, track and field qualifiers and diving. We looked up locales on our globe as runners from places like Palau and Guatemala raced those against Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, the Marshall Islands and Luxembourg. We were awed by the twists and flips of elegant divers making nary a splash upon landing. We cheered on Team USA like it’s one single, awesome brand, and as we went to get a mid-morning snack we learned with horror about the domestic terrorist’s shooting rampage at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin.
That night we stayed up extra late to watch NASA’s Curiosity rover land on Mars. It was a feat of mind-boggling technological prowess – a miracle, really – and a victory for science and the capabilities of the human mind and human spirit.
All this in one 24-hour period, where millions worldwide watched each of these events unfold. How can the same community of people innovate a vehicle to parachute onto the Red Planet, while a fellow citizen murders a group of people simply for looking and worshiping differently from him? What are we missing, and what can we do better? Can some of the energy for innovation and athleticism be directed toward building understanding and compassion?
Conversations around differences – especially those involving different belief systems – have been notoriously difficult to carry out honestly. But we can’t avoid having them. If the shooter had friends of Sikh or Muslim backgrounds growing up (yes – these are different belief systems, but prejudice for one group likely includes prejudice for the other), there’s a very high chance he never would have been able to carry out this act of terrorism. We can start working on this problem with our children, and our neighbors, and friends of friends. Speak up for the ignored, avoided, or marginalized. Show your children what that sort of courage and leadership looks like. Work through what makes us uncomfortable about peoples’ differences. The steps that seem the simplest may also be the most profound.
As you consider making friends with those who look or worship differently from you, consider taking a a step further. In the words of Baha’u’llah: “Do not be content with showing friendship in words alone, let you heart burn with loving kindness for all who may cross your path.”
We live in such a crazy time where such incongruous events happen virtually side-by-side. I believe it’s a choice we make as a society if we accept the ways of a dark global clash or move toward a bright, loving, victorious coexistence.
To honor the victims and their families, learn more about who they were, and say their names, which can be found in this piece in the LA Times.