"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it" ~Atticus Finch, "To Kill A Mockingbird"All around the world today, bloggers are uniting to celebrate our human quality of compassion. I love participating with other like-minded souls on a project like this because it then also becomes a celebration of the new kinds of connection that the internet makes possible. You can find other blogs on compassion by clicking on the "May 15 - Day of Compassion" badge to the right.
Compassion allows us to sublimate the feeling of "other" that we see in people and instead find out how we are alike. To really feel compassionate, we have to do what Atticus Finch, the fictional hero of "To Kill A Mockingbird" suggested to his daughter Scout. We need to consider life from the other person's point of view.
How do we do that when the "other" is "the other?" If a group of people is unknown to us, and we fear them, we don't know any of them, we haven't talked to any of them, we will probably let fear of them grow in our mind.
I suggest the quickest way to grow compassion for others that we do not know or understand is to consume each other's literature and media. My country would be a different place if the American people had access to Al Jazeera and could see the Arab point-of-view. My country would be a different place if it would choose to have a more global appetite for media, and not just consume home-grown American books, TV shows, and movies. I believe we would literally be nicer.
The useful thing about consuming media of "the other" is that it is not threatening. We can hear the opinions, emotions, feelings of those who disagree with us or see things differently without having to instantly react.
I remember when I saw the movie "Cesky Mir," a thought-provoking Czech movie describing how Czechs were working to end a possible American-installed radar system on their land. What stunned me was not the arguments against the missile system, but the knowledge the Czechs had about how corrupting all that American money floating around would be to their tiny little democracy. I believe Americans are so used to that wash of money over our government we can hardly see its influence anymore - it seems normal.
In the movie Cesky Mir, one old village lady asked, "how can we trust the Americans? You see the kind of crap they send to our country for our young people through their movies!" Yikes, that cut me to the quick because I knew it was true. We do create a lot of crap movies! I acknowledge and agree with her point-of-view.
Could that be the future? Citizens of one country getting citizens of another country to question how they do things through media? This could be the start of mass grass-roots diplomacy!
One area where I feel that I have a lot of compassion and where my country has grown a lot of compassion is in race relations. That has been the work of my generation of white Americans: opening our heart to the full participation of African-Americans in American life. I have consumed untold quantities of African-American literature, music, and movies. I defy anyone to read Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" or Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" and remain compassion-less.
Ralph EllisonThis is why literature is so incredibly important and why I am so proud of my profession of librarianship. It heals society. It strengthens our heart muscles and makes them more daring and more loving. I have scads of African-American friends because I feel comfortable with them because I am comfortable with their outlook on life (as much as one can generalize about a whole group of people) through the consumption of their media.
I can see both the good and the bad in African-American culture just as I can see the good and the bad in my Caucasian culture. What is so healthy in my country is that we can laugh at ourselves and each other and discuss all of these things publicly. We are listening to each other and enjoying each other. I would hate to think of what my country would be like if we never choose to become more accepting of each other. I think it would be similar to this parallel, non-touching existence of Coptic Christians and Muslims that a famous Egyptian blogger describes in his blog "Rantings of a Sand Monkey" here.
In contrast to how comfortable I am with African-American culture, it was recently announced that America is now 16% Hispanic. I have consumed hardly any Hispanic literature, hardly any Hispanic music, and hardly any Hispanic movies. I tried to think if I had any Hispanic friends (one may call me on it later, we'll see). I couldn't think of any. That doesn't surprise me since I have opened no window into their culture other than food.
I had never been inside a mosque until I moved to Turkey. It has been so darn healthy for me to come form my own opinion of Muslim societies rather than stick with the image Osama Bin Laden thought I should have. The more I learn from Turks about who they are and what their culture is about, the less distance I feel between me and them. It is impossible for a group of people to be "the other" when you can see yourself in them and feel what they are feeling.
If I could ask something of you today, gentle reader, ask yourself: "whom do I fear? Whom do I resent? Or who is invisible to me because I choose not to see them?" Then go out and find their best literature, movies, or music. Start a relationship with an entire culture. You may end up with wonderful friends who will enrich your life.