Thursday, August 30, 2012

What if...

Xenophobia is defined in the online Webster dictionary as a fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.

Now, some might say that a little bit of fear of strangers is a good thing.  We teach our children to be wary of strangers, not because we don't want them to be social but because we know that there can be dangers when approached by someone you don't know.  But clearly, immediate recoiling when approached by someone who appears different than the face we see in the mirror, or negative judgements about those who are physically different than us, when taken to its extreme is not a trait that we admire.

Yet, the human animal has spent thousands of centuries living among and seeking out people like themselves.  One might even say that we are genetically wired to flock together when the together is defined as those who like and think as we do.  We formed villages, cities, states, countries all so that we could feel part of a group, a group made of people like us.  And when our group is threatened, whether it be familial, national, racial, ethnic or religious, we defend it, in some ways reverting back to our most tribal behaviors.

Diversity, it has been suggested, is one way of broadening the "big tent", so to speak of the group called mankind.  Once we include more types of people within our group, there are less types to be afraid of, less reasons to act xenophobic.

We all most likely fall somewhere in the middle of the tolerance scale rather than on the edges.  There are no lynchings or stonings in our activities.  We state belief in the bible verse "do not judge less ye shall be judged", yet we don't immediately welcome those with differences into our personal circles of trust.  We might cross the street rather than passing close by someone who "looks" strange or dangerous.  We might cut short our encounters with clerks sporting multiple piercings or tattoos.  We might avoid hiring the applicant with a dark color, long hair, effeminate mannerisms, or physical disabilities.  We use all kinds of rationales, some supported by intellect, some by our religion, some by our country, to keep those who are different at arm's length. 

And we believe we will go to heaven because we are good people.  How do we know?  Because we treat our family well.  We sacrifice so our children can have a better life.  We call and visit our parents who sacrifice for us. We donate clothes to the local FISH, volunteer to run the snack stand for our child's sports team, go to church most Sundays, lie as little as possible, only lust in our hearts.  We follow, mostly, all the rules and guidelines that have been established as defining what a good life entails.

But treating those we love, those we birth or are birthed by, those we marry, those we live among, those who look like us, think like us, belief what we believe, treating those people well seems pretty easy.  Is the bar to get to heaven so low?  If so, and if our life on earth is a test to see who gets to heaven, well, it seems more like a pass/fail test than a real "separate-the-boys-from-the-men" test.
What if your chances of reaching heaven, nirvana, full consciousness or whatever your particular religion or belief may call a pleasant afterlife is based more on your interactions, positively or negatively with those of different faiths, different races, different cultures, different economic situations?  What if heaven is occupied by the spiritually advanced only?  If our life on earth is truly a test to see who earns eternity with the creator, what if the sole factor in determining this reward is how we treated people who are different from us? 
  What if the creator's plan purposefully expected human development to be so varied and include such a wide range of religions, cultures, beliefs, colors, etc. precisely because she wanted us to simply learn how to get along despite our differences?  
There is a saying that the best parties, the gatherings where the most fun and interaction occur, are those with fewer participants rather than those with the most guests.  Perhaps heaven is such a place; and if so, what a surprise that would be.

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