For the past several weeks my wife and I have been traveling around Italy and Switzerland to take in the history and the magnificence of the countries, the culture, and the people. It is our third such trip to Europe and we have discovered that expanding our experiences brings us greater insight and understanding of humanity. It is my belief that it is only our ill-conceived perceptions and lack of education and understanding that place barriers between many of us and the rest of mankind.
We have discovered that people around the world are so similar in what they are seeking in life. There is a universal hunger to find love, happiness, and security as they bustle through each day. There is a deep yearning for human relationships that exhibit understanding and kindness. No matter what country, what language, what religion or skin color, we are all sharing this life with the same eager anticipation and hopes. We all yearn for equal opportunity. We want to be treated fairly and with respect and dignity.
Why is it that we seem to focus more on the differences in life rather than the commonalities? We shy away from exposing ourselves to the world and other people, especially if it takes us out of our comfort zone. We are much too often intimidated by perceived differences to the point that we shirk from engaging with the world. It is not the wonder of the ancient cathedrals, coliseums and artifacts that bring us a broader understanding of humanity. It is the sharing of thoughts, conversations and experiences that open our eyes to the oneness of our planet.
We too often let the words, perceptions and influences of others dictate our own discernment of people, places, and events. Even in our own communities, towns, and cities, we seldom venture into the opportunities of making friends with those who are in some manner different from ourselves. How often do we engage in discourse with those who may be different in their station in life, but share a common humanness with us? We allow the pre-judgment of family and friends to influence our willingness to explore for ourselves.
How often do we actually try to see the world through the lens of those who don’t fit the mold of being like us in worldly ways? Can we quiet our minds and find empathy and understanding of those who might be different? Are we able and willing to be open, honest, and attentive to the plight, opinions, and experiences of those who don’t look like us, worship like us, talk like us, dress like us, love like us? Doing so is the key to finding the peace, love and understanding that we need in the world right now. There can never be a true universal “brotherhood of man” until we allow ourselves to get to truly know each other.
I have found that over the years, many Americans have grown arrogant in their thoughts and deeds about others from around the world. We have been taught that America is the best of everything. While we are a fantastic country with opportunities that abound, my travels and experiences have shown me that we are not the only country or people that shine brightly. We much too often treat our worldly brothers with the same attitude of scorn and disdain that is heaped upon our own population of homeless, the poor, and minorities. We too often look at immigrants as pest rather than recognizing that this country was built on the foundation of a blended band of humanity from around the globe.
Our parents grew up and most likely lived, worked, and stayed in a fifty-mile radius of their birth. Until the internet era, only the well to do had the opportunity to experience the culture, languages, and beauty of the rest of the world. It amazes me that I can now talk to my family on Wi-Fi Apps that bring us face to face around the world even though we are many miles and hours apart. The more we elect to expose ourselves to different cultures, races, and religions, the greater our knowledge and understanding grows.
Lately it seems that many in America want to push aside the actual history that forms the foundation of our nation. Not every aspect of our history is pretty, just or kind. Not every one of our ancestors was kind, fair and noble. Personally, I am a product of ancestors who shunned the American Revolution as Tories to support the English King. I am the product of Southerners who owned slaves and shunned the America of that era. Some in my lineage assisted in unspeakable acts against Native Americans during the Trail of Tears.
Am I proud of these chapters and actors in my genetic landscape? Absolutely not, but that is my history. It is not my present and certainly not my future. I cannot undo what others have done centuries before, nor am I accountable for their actions…only my own. I am also the product of brave men and women who fought in two World Wars and survived in an era of great economic depression.
However, knowing how we came to be where we are today is vital to making a better world for tomorrow. No matter what my ancestral past, I am bound only to learn from those past deeds and or transgressions and to make myself the best version of a kind and loving person today. None of us can go back and change history, nor do we have to feel shame for acts that we did not engage in. The facts of history don’t change when you remove a book from the library or ban discussions that motivate us to think and evaluate where we have been in history and where we need to go in the future for a better world to emerge for all.
There is a monumental difference in providing prudent oversight and in trying to sweep the truth of history under the carpet.
When we as a person or as a country have been in some messy and ugly situations, it is important to find the root causes of these short comings and to work for a better life and world for all. It is important to find ways to embrace and include others and the rest of the world, rather than trying to draw lines of separation. The true beauty of life and mankind lies in the diversity of each individual and the sharing of our common bonds.
Fred’s latest book is The Divine Order of Our Random Life: A Collection of Teachable Moments and Human Observation. He is also the author of The Fork in the Road Leads Home: Reflections From My Life's Journeys...A Collection of Essays and The Essential Elements of Successful Coaching