Dear Grace and Sylvia;
San Bernardino; Brexit; Turkey; xenophobic politicians; senseless shootings; Islamophobia; homophobia; racism; intolerance toward anyone different. I write this with a heavy heart, but as the Republican National Convention unfolds near our adopted hometown, I knew it would be a teachable moment about the many issues that have brought our country and the world to a boiling point. When I share this letter with you, I hope you will someday become a part of the solution.
Your father and I chose this Cleveland suburb to raise you and your sister in a place that welcomes and celebrates diversity. It was our hope that you would grow up with a worldly point of view, appreciating and respecting people regardless of their ethnicity, physical ability, level of development, race, nationality, faith, socioeconomic background, body type, gender identity or sexual orientation.
As your mother, I am very proud that you foster friendships with people who represent the full spectrum of humanity. You rarely judge, but you are unfortunately discovering as a tween and young teen that intolerance exists even in our community. Sadly, you discovered this narrow-mindedness can also come from people who feel uncomfortable with our belief to treat others with infinite respect and radical hospitality.
I feel saddened and frustrated for many reasons, befuddled why people hate based on personal opinions rather than educate themselves on differences. While the ability to disagree is a natural human right, I feel profoundly uncomfortable with the growing need to disrespect, blame, and scapegoat others simply because they are different. Why does this matter, you ask? Because the subtlest forms of intolerance have historically been the basis of attacks, lynchings, genocide and war. Tragically, these attitudes also reflect the recent deaths of minorities and police officers. These intolerant behaviors are currently feeding a hateful resurgence in this deeply divided American political climate, your father’s native Britain, and around the globe.
You are first and fourth-generation Americans, descendants of families who faced intolerance because of their country of origin, region, language, religion and poverty. Your ancestors, father and I have faced xenophobia and religious intolerance through comments that we:
- Were not white enough.
- Were (and are) practicing the wrong religion.
- As immigrants, were assumed and called ignorant for speaking broken English – and in your father’s case, for his accent.
- As part of an ethnic group, must be petty criminals or related to the mafia.
- … up to one generation ago, were asked to “go back to where we came from (By the way, the answer to the last one is Connecticut).
I share these stories to help you understand why recent events, here and abroad, are the end-result of intolerance that is nurtured and encouraged. Behaviors and words can either be direct or subtle: Quietly ignoring those in need; promoting prejudice through legislation; blatantly malicious social media posts like those directed at Leslie Jones; and physically harming others. When is enough enough?
As a college student, I visited the former Dachau concentration camp in Germany. This grainy photo of a sign is poignant. In four languages, it says “Never again.”
Since 1945, intolerance has unfortunately continued across the world and in our own country – but I remain hopeful. My college mentors and our Episcopal faith have taught me much about multiculturalism and humanity, which I’ve passed on to you. Although these are very distressful and unsettling times, I hope you can use these mindfulness skills to abate your unease. Isn’t it time we break the hate cycle, starting with ourselves?
1. Understand Where Negative Terms Come From
Ongoing remarks about Islam, African Americans, Asians, Latinos, immigrants, the LGBTQ community, race and negative politics have gone from unacceptable to toxic here and abroad. Similar situations have always existed for our indigenous tribes, Jews, and past immigrants.
Recent laments about “reasonable life before political correctness” point to a discomfort and inability to understand and respect others. If that’s political correctness, I’m proud to say we practice it. Judgment comes from fear of what people don’t understand, what seems “foreign,” or their own personal ideology of what is “normal” or “mainstream.” Think about this the next time you complain about certain school cliques. Your perception will always color how you see life – it’s up to you to make it an affirming or negative one.
2. Be Proactive and Part of the Solution
This fall, one of you will join a group dedicated to supporting and educating others about human rights. As the saying goes, “knowledge is power.” If you positively impact even one person, you will make the world a stronger, kinder place.
Speak up when you hear someone denigrating others. You’ve shown strength and courage when you stood up for friends bullied at school. I know you will continue to do wonderful work promoting social justice.
Keep learning. Develop your foreign language skills and travel. Learn about other cultures that exist here as much as any other country. You will discover that many perspectives exist outside of what many in our city call the “Shaker Bubble.” The beauty of humanity is our diversity, good and bad – and it is yours to study.
3. The Hate isn’t About You
Hate comes from fear. Fear comes from ignorance, the other person’s self-esteem, and their past life experiences. You are kind, giving and beautiful for who you are and what you do. When we understand that hate isn’t simply “hate” or about us, it loses power.
4. Honor Your Imperfections
In The Gifts of Imperfection, author Brenè Brown discusses her “guideposts” to appreciate and love yourself. Be authentic, and don’t worry about fitting in. Stand by the friends you believe in. If people will only accept a false notion of who you are and who you “should” be friends with, you will be miserable. Don’t live up to others’ expectations, because you will lose your sense of self trying to please everybody. Most importantly, live for, love and honor yourself. Your life will be happier and more fulfilling if you are surrounded by people who appreciate and love you for who you are.
5. Develop Compassion Toward the “Other”
Jesus talked about “turning the other cheek.” Buddhists practice the compassionate heart meditation. Yogis emphasize no judgment. You must first love yourself before you can develop compassion toward others. It isn’t an easy or instantaneous process, but once you start to practice this, you’ll break the cycle of misunderstanding, fear and violence that are poisoning our society. We can’t stop others from hating, but we can end our own emotional turmoil if we drop the negative emotions based on our Ego and false assumptions. You will feel liberated and peaceful when you abandon the Ego’s need for vengeance.
Start simply: Mind what you say in public; be respectful (even if you disagree); and remind yourself that what you hear doesn’t necessarily pertain to you (see #3).
6. Don’t Fight to Be Right
There is a difference between saying what is right, and arguing with someone whose opinion differs from yours. The Ego thrives on chaos and the need to feel superior, justified, or “right.” What is “right” to you may be “wrong” to another. Leave the judgment out of your conversations and be open to learning a different point of view. You may not agree with what you hear, but you’ll learn the importance of understanding that we all think differently. Play fair and don’t degrade yourself to name calling. Live honorably. Walk away if the the conversation becomes a contest, because these types of arguments never have a winner.
Be proactive and direct your energy in positive ways: Join a cause; seek proactive opportunities to learn about others; donate your time to the community; and work for and support legislation that honors human rights.
7. Take Deep Breaths
As a human being, you will get mad, frustrated and hurt throughout your life – but you have the power to control how intensely you feel these emotions. If you remember nothing else, set aside time for yourself. Take a step back, observe your situation, and see what you are meant to learn. The answers may not be there immediately, but they will come. Take a few breaths to calm and center yourself. This time shall pass, and you will be stronger and wiser because of it.
This letter is dedicated to a group of very insightful and unforgettable mentors at Central Connecticut State University. Thank you Bob, Judy, Sue, Otis, Duane, Gina, Dr. Rob – and the many others who guided me as a young adult. Lastly, I want to mention the Rev. Peter Faass. You aren’t afraid to stand up to hate. You teach about love, infinite respect and radical hospitality in everything you say and do. It’s a high bar you all have set, but I do my best to follow and teach it. What a wonderful gift, an honorable legacy.