Are we welcoming all the strangers or just the ones that look like us?
2018 has been a year that has tested my faith — tested my faith in humanity. There were times when listening to the news that I just held my head in my hands and sobbed. There were times when I was filled with sadness — hearing about another shooting of an unarmed black man or of injustices against people of color. My soul was ripped apart when I saw children being separated from their parents at our southern borders. Witnessing the cries, the pain in the faces of little terrified children, I couldn’t fathom how we could allow this to happen. What could possibly justify locking up children with no timeline or even concern for reuniting them with their families? The children’s cries broke my heart.
Yet the cries of children brought people out of the woodwork, to stand up and say, "No." These are our children, too! Thousands of people started contributing and raising millions of dollars for separated families to get legal assistance. This restored my faith.
Worldwide there are more than 68 million people who are forcibly displaced. In every country and every language the concept of home is a place of security, joy and love. No one, anywhere would choose to leave home for ever if home were actually a sanctuary of joy and love. But when home is dangerous, when home offers no safety, no security, no food, no schools, no work opportunities, then people leave. They leave to survive. Yet, as they go from country to country seeking refuge, they are turned away, victimized, demonized and portrayed as criminals.
There is an intolerance, a distance that keeps people at arm’s length, especially when they are perceived as different — especially when they are poor. There is a disparaging way of blaming people for their poverty. When the blame is on them, we do not have to take the responsibility of knowing them or caring for them. After all it is their own fault for not pulling themselves out of their despicable situation. That is a loud and widely spread justification for the lack of empathy.
Yet, despite those loud and grating arguments, there are still thousands of people, persistent and dedicated, lending a hand and tirelessly offering support and refuge. This, too, restores my faith.
We recently experienced the heartache from the mass shooting at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. The shooter’s hate blinded him, and he murdered innocent people only because of his hatred for Jewish people. He could not see them as humans. After this atrocity, people in cities throughout the U.S., came out to show their support, to stand in unity with our Jewish brothers and sisters to express their love. Faith restored.
For the past weeks we have been horrified at the devastating fires in California. More than 80 people are dead and hundreds missing. Recently, here in Austin, we experienced flooding from days of rain. And even after a year, cities are still recovering from Hurricanes Harvey and Maria. These catastrophic disasters have left many people forcibly displaced. The idea that people can lose everything in an instant is not that difficult to understand anymore.
There has been an outpouring of support for people experiencing this unexpected life circumstance. Yet the compassion is not always extended to everyone. Some people are treated with compassion, seen as deserving of our help and resources, while others are not.
It’s important to think about to whom we extend our compassion. To examine if we only extend our compassion to people who look like us, or believe like us. I hope we can make a change and expand — to extend our love and compassion to others who seem different.
Each of us should make a pledge to get to know someone who is unlike us. The only way we will get over our fears of the other is to meet at a level where we recognize each other’s humanity. In that respect, we are all very similar.
The biggest test in our time is how to love each other. The timeless solution for our problems is love above all else; silence the justifications and arguments, and love one another; share our compassion, give generously and receive graciously. Faith is always restored and is strengthened through love.
Simone Talma Flowers is the Executive Director of Interfaith Action of Central Texas an organization that brings people of diverse faiths and cultures together to cultivate peace and respect. The column Doing Good Together is compiled by IACT, interfaithtexas.org.