Xenophobia builds boundaries. Empathy knocks them down.
Even if we desire to be in touch with every tragedy on the planet, we cannot, not even with all that happens in our own neighborhood, let alone the unfolding of events overseas.
As some point, whether case by case or total volume, we disconnect and fall back to categories as reference points for who receives our attention and who does not, for whom we act to support and protect, and for whom we ignore or even cast aside.
We all know, at some level, that all humans everywhere are very similar. We all have good and bad ones too. We laugh, we cry, we argue and we make up. We wake groggy and are eager to fall to sleep. There are Muslims who fail to pray five times a year let alone five times a day and Christians who never go to church. There are Buddhists who kill, religious leaders who do not practice what they preach and vegetarians who occasionally eat meat. There are professional athletes who use performance enhancing drugs and doctors who smoke. There are those who suffer from lactose intolerance who indulge in ice cream knowing the outcome will quite painful.
In every culture, in every country, on every continent there are people just like you and there are people just like me.
How do we embrace our shared like-ness given that we cannot possibly know each one at an intimate level?
We must desire to let go of our stereotypes and our fear. We must embrace the belief that everyone deserves that which we share, or even better. We must recognize that nations are not evil, rather it is individuals who commit acts which cause pain. To do so is very, very challenging for it requires tremendous self-awareness amidst a driving desire to lump groups of people into simple categories. To do so is dangerous, for it opens us to empathetic pain.
If you ask to what I am referring, consider how anyone in the U.S. can justify the death of no less than 150,000 human beings (by some counts more than 1,000,000 in total), mostly civilian, for the U.S. lead ten years war in Afghanistan and Iraq in retaliation for the death of 3,000? The only way, the only way anyone cannot cry, sob, even vomit at the very thought of this bloodshed is to disable that part of our selves which would otherwise say “this person is just like me” and I cannot justify their death.
Each of us can choose to not propagate misinformation which helps ease our own pain while supporting unfounded statements which ease the burden of a nation. The next time you find yourself categorizing someone, ask why? Then look for that place which allows you to find the familiar instead. It is the greatest give you can give someone you may never meet.