Building Bridges Part II

How quickly the ground under our feet seems to be shifting!  I was astounded recently to find this quote from a man once greatly admired, but now scorned  by many for his imperialism and his colonialist attitude. A quote by Winston Churchill whose statue in Parliament Square in London has now been boarded up to protect it from further attacks by anti-racist demonstrators.

Diversity is the one thing we all have in common. Celebrate it every day.

So many of us no longer need a reminder to celebrate diversity in nature. We welcome its rich variety of colour and shape along with the contribution that each makes to the whole. When it comes to people, however, we often resort to a primeval clannishness that leads us to cluster with those we perceive to be similar in appearance, belief, or provenance.

Often people cement their similarities into a source of identity. “I must be x, because I’m so comfortable with others who are in category x,” they declare. Having allied themselves with group x then absolves them of the need to expand their horizons and give serious thought to other ways of conceptualizing reality. In a competitive world, the line between uniqueness and superiority quickly blurs. Soon, each group claims that its values and its actions are especially meritorious.

It’s important both on the personal and at the group level that we not confuse uniqueness with superiority. Just as individual humans often fail to live up to their own values, so it is with all groups, including both religious and secular organizations. As I see it, the world’s cultures and religions are much like the clothes we wear. Colourful, different, but all covering that inner nakedness that we have in common. Underneath, we are all the same.

Is there a religion that does not preach kindness to one’s fellow humans? And yet, like individuals, religions sometimes succumb to indecent acts of cruelty. Think of the Crusades. Of witch-burnings.  Of recent acts of barbarism. Not just in some remote past, but recently.

While preparing to participate in the above conference, I looked up the date of the last “officially reported” lynching in the U.S.  Shockingly, it was within my lifetime, and perhaps yours. On March 21, 1981, a perfectly innocent man, 19-year-old Michael Donald was chosen at random, chased down, beaten brutally, then strangled. The killers showed him off at a party at that night before hanging his body from a tree. The killers were members of the KKK, and their goals included “re-establishing Protestant Christian values in America.” Many believed that “Jesus was the first Klansman. “

Lest we think that Canadians are different, let me remind you that in 2016, KKK flyers were placed on doorsteps in Mission, Chilliwack and Abbotsford.  In 2017, Macleans magazine published an article entitled The KKK has a history in Canada. And it can return. (By Christine Sismondo, August 18, 2017). The article states thatWhat we learned from our last journey down a similar road was that being smug about our own virtue and blind to our own systemic racism … only made it easier for KKK Kanada to set up shop.”  I was horrified to see KKK followed by “Kanada” spelled with a matching capital K.

I sincerely hope that this period of self-isolation has made more Canadians aware that viruses do not respect national borders. Whether a family member dies in Vancouver or Venezuela, the pain and the loss are the same.  We are one humanity.

We are one humanity. Four simple words, so easy to state, so hard to put into effect. Sometimes, the problems that lie ahead seem insurmountable. As country after country struggles to provide for its citizens, climate change along with the steady increase in world population threatens to negate our tentative steps toward peaceful co-existence. Advances in weaponry, some of it already in the hands of impulsive strongmen only adds to our sense of unease. When danger threatens, the impulse is always to protect against.

The impulse is to protect what we have. That impulse may lead us to narrow our circle just when we most need to expand it.  It may lead us away from the appreciation of diversity and from the love of our neighbour which humans around the world hold up as the mirror reflecting their own compassion, empathy, and their generosity of spirit.

I watch fearfully as Europe struggles to cope with what promises to be just the tip of the iceberg. Will the factors bringing boatloads of unwanted refugees across the Mediterranean also bring them to “the True North strong and free”? Will we turn them aside, saying “We don’t want those people” the way Canadians did when the ship the St. Louis tried to land with its boatload of Jews fleeing the Nazis? Or will we draw upon our ethical principles as multicultural Canadians and remember that all people are our neighbours, and that it is wrong to treat others in ways that we would experience as hateful? 

Will we find ways to share? Will we decide that our neighbour is not only the family next door, but also the family down the street? What about the families across town, and even the far distant families? Is there space for all? How can we make our resources stretch to encompass ever greater numbers of those in need?

Building bridges and connecting to one another to ensure a world of peaceful co-existence is going to take everyone: agnostics and atheists, religious and ethnic communities of every description. Miracles can and will happen when we all live up to our own ideals.

It’s vital that everyone ask “What can I do to help? How can I make a difference? A difference to one person? A difference to many? What needs to change, locally, nationally, and globally?  How can I be an instrument of that change?”

4 thoughts on “Building Bridges Part II

  1. Diana Gallivan

    Thanks Helen
    We must find ways to address population increases and global warming. If not I really don’t know how we are going to be able to help the huge number of people who will be in need. Would love to hear your thoughts on how to do that another day!

  2. Mary Ungerleider

    A beautifully written and timely message. It’s one I hope every reader will reflect upon and take to heart. Thank you, Helen.

  3. Dean Darling

    Thanks, Helen, for your essays “Building Bridges” Parts I and II.

    My response is to say that each of us can act locally to help to
    build a better world.

    What steps to take?
    I choose to stay away from any divisive thinking, because those
    who promote division often do so to selfishly gain power over

    My simple message is: let us be kind to one another, and let us
    all be aware of the power of attitude.
    My attitude is usually contagious; therefore, I choose to be
    happy, and to express gratitude anywhere I find myself.

    Also, many people are starved for recognition, and for
    appreciation of their contributions.
    A few kind words can make a big difference in someone’s day.

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