Monday, August 06, 2012

When Will We Learn?

So soon after the horror that occurred in Aurora, CO we have another tragedy in Oak Creek, WI.  This time it occurs as people are gathered not for entertainment but for peaceful worship.  It's not that folks in a movie theater somehow deserved to be shot, just that attacking people in a sanctuary of their religion seems even greater a transgression. 

It is hypothesized that just like the Sikh man who was murdered at a gas-station in the days after 9/11, these people were once again targeted because they were mistaken as Muslims....not that targeting Muslims is in any way acceptable...just that if this is the case it serves to highlight the ignorant and rage-fueled bigotry motivating violent people. 

We all start out ignorant of anything but our own experience.  This is the nature of childhood and immaturity.  Part of maturity is growing up and learning to see and understand from perspectives other than our own.  Clinging to ignorance does not allow us to even consider the value of seeing through the eyes of another.

When I went to college in 1986 I was ignorant.  I had grown up in a very insulated community...insulated enough that I was regarded as an exotic since I am half-Greek, insulated enough that being a family headed by a single mother marked us as suspect.  When I arrived at college I was exposed to many people from different countries, people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. 

Most of the people I socialized with were the international students.  I spent so much time with them it was not unusual for me to be mistaken as being an immigrant myself since there weren't a lot of WASP American students spending so much time with them and in central Pennsylvania where I went to college I was regarded as "ethnically ambiguous."  During lunch at the cafeteria it was not strange to find me, an evangelical Protestant, at a table with Iranian, Bangladeshi, and Pakistani Muslims (Shi'ites and Sunnis), Indian and Kenyan Hindus, a Sri Lankan Catholic, a Taiwanese Buddhist, and my closest friend among the international students, a Sikh from India.

At some point I had deep philosophical and spiritual conversations with each of these people, sometimes one on one, sometimes all at the table together.  On some points we agreed on others we differed quite considerably (occasionally with great passion) and yet we had respect for each other and learned from each other.  I had my world view expanded exponentially and was exposed to ideas I never knew existed before.  I owe my friends and acquaintances a debt of gratitude for the education they afforded me was so much greater than anything I could have gained from any of the textbooks required by various professors.

I entered that world ignorant.  I am sure at times, in my ignorance I caused significant offense as well, and for that I am sorry and appreciate whatever grace my friends afforded me.  I possess no great virtue but I wanted to learn when I sat with the world around the table in the cafeteria.  I left with far more understanding of people who had very different backgrounds than I did. 

From my Sikh friend I learned that Sikhs preach that people of all religions, castes, and creed are considered equal by God and that both men and women are fully equal and either can lead prayers and worship.  I learned that each Sikh temple has a free community kitchen where people of any faith are welcomed as an act of humility and service to the greater community.  I learned that because my own faith teaches me that perfect love casts out fear...and I believe we should not be afraid to learn.  It's an important step to respect, which is essential for peace.

15 comments:

Stephen Hayes said...

This is a truly wonderful post. The more exposed we are to different ways and customs, the more we are in a position to benefit from the widest variety of ideas. Travel also helps to open minds and hearts.

Eva said...

I can only agree!

G-Man said...

it's simply ignorance!!!

Daryl said...

what a perfect post .. its amazing how once we open our eyes and ears our hearts follow and we replace bigotry and ignorance with knowledge and compassion

haphazardlife said...

Amen to that, Lime.

Craig said...

Your experience runs pretty much parallel to my own. Northern Michigan is not exactly a teeming hotbed of diversity. When I was in college at a huge state university (the student body was three times the size of my hometown), I remember how honored I felt when I befriended a black man to the point that he invited me to join him in the 'black section' of the cafeteria. . . (*sigh*)

Ignorance of this sort is just. . . AAAUUUGGGHHH. . .

We are, every one of us, no matter our religious commitment/persuasion, human beings, equallly bearing the image and likeness of our Creator, and inherently worthy of honor on that account alone. . .

Stuff like this keeps bringing me back to what Chesterton once said, that of all the doctrines of Christianity, none is more empirically obvious than the fallenness of human nature. . .

Jericho said...

Resonant in any era, this post contains the simple truth and wisdom I've appreciated for the seven years I've been fortunate enough to read your thoughts. We've some catching up to do :)

Suldog said...

Some of what you recall has similarity to my own experience. My childhood neighborhood was purely white, mostly Irish heritage, 98% Catholic. Unlike my friends, I had a father who worked for the airlines and who could whisk My Mom and myself to far-flung corners of the world at little expense. I found out that despite the "knowledge" passed around the neighborhood, people with darker skins were humans, people of different religions weren't all insane, and (Horrors!) The United States wasn't always pure in thought and deed. I also learned that my people had their rightful and honored place in society, and that the U.S. was quite good when compared to many. It's a give and take. But always valuable to learn of others and their ways, even if only to find out that your way is, indeed, better.

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Very fine post. I grew up rather ignorant myself - small town, very white. But I always noticed things. Always seemed to see things others did not. That made me curious about others, and made me want to learn.

I often wonder why I had that desire when so many do not.

As I said, very fine post.

Kat said...

Perfectly and gorgeously said.

There are a great many people in this world who are not just ignorant but CRAZY. I think the type of people who go on these rampages are crazy, insane, nuts. I just don't think ignorant covers it. Apparently this guy was a white supremacist and that type of person I classify as crazy. And like my good husband always says, "you can't argue with crazy", because no matter how much logic, how much love, how much proof you throw at them they choose to believe the craziness in their heads. It is a scary world with those types of crazies running around.

I pray...

Kat said...

On an unrelated note-
THANK YOU for the awesome song link for me. It definitely made me smile. :)

coopernicus said...

I wrote this kewl, pithy comment but it got trashed while signing in to wordpress. damn.

Beach Bum said...

Not trying to be funny here but humans are simply stupid creatures. Narrow minded world views that cross the line into an evil insanity are far too common for our species. After reading Jane Goodall I realize the chimps behave similarly but they do not have assault weapons, semiautomatic pistols, and ultimately nukes.

Bijoux said...

Great post, Lime! I had a college professor who had a habit of slyly picking on the Saudi Arabian student in one of my management classes. It irritated the hell out of me, so I befriended the young man, only to discover that he was a prince of some sort and from a very wealthy family. I think he had the last laugh.

Hilary said...

A fine post, Lime. Hatred and bigotry truly is ignorance and fear.. but in such a dangerous form.