I have a new way to resolve conflict, perhaps even to achieve world peace.
Place the most unreasonable enemies together and ask them to take turns answering the following questions:
What are you afraid of? Who is your favorite grandparent?
Do you believe in ghosts? Who is your favorite singer?
What is your favorite childhood memory?
It won’t take long before you will see smiles, laughs, and nods of understanding. It won’t take long before walls fall and hearts lighten.
While there are no enemies in my high-level English class, the group contains students from all over the world, including some countries and religions that are globally at war with each other. These students are from Central America, West Africa, East Africa, and Russia. They come, in fact, from almost as many different countries as there are students.
This week, we spent an hour answering conversation cards like the questions above, and once again, I found myself musing about all that we had in common.
Yes, our skin color is different; our clothes are different; our religions are different; our food is different; and our cultures are different. And yet, when you strip us of these outside traits, we are not different at all.
I wish you could have heard the students talk of their fears: snakes, bees, roaches, and car accidents. They also spoke of memories of their grandparents: going for walks as children, being held up high and put on the shoulders of their grandparents, playing games. They spoke of favorite singers: choirs seemed to be universally popular. There was some difference in the belief of ghosts and yet each person was fascinated by another’s take on the subject.
In our current political climate (in the U.S. and abroad), it is increasingly harder to find voices that are not demonizing another people group, another religion, another skin color, another country, another anything.
This is the sad story of humankind: demonizing the Other.
But as the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas said, “the face of the Other” calls us into a moral relationship with that person. In other words, when we get to know someone – their fears, their hopes, their dreams, their memories – we can no longer fear or demonize them; we can only understand that we have a moral responsibility to help them, to connect with them.
That is what I love most about the Center for New Americans. Our job here is nothing other than to help create world peace, one relationship at a time.
It is, in fact, all of our jobs – as human beings sharing the same planet.
Let us embrace the Other. He or she is, in fact, our own self.
Posted by Julie Boutwell-Peterson