This Holiday Season Lets Discuss Racial And Religious Intolerance

November 21, 2009
Written by Janice S. Ellis... in
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Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks, but it is also an opportunity to try to help our families and neighbors gain perspective on what must seem like a perpetual sea of unwelcome changes.

Where has our once relatively tranquil and somewhat predictable American way of life gone?

How has and how will the war with Iraq, and possibly Afghanistan change our lives? Will there be more terrorist attacks in or near our own backyards? In the coming months, will the economy continue to get better or worse?

As we pause to find some measure of comfort in old family traditions, get reacquainted with family and friends, and take time to prepare traditional homemade meals, almost in defiance of the instant, carefree, microwave era, will we be able to escape the anxiety we feel, the loss of our sense of collective safety, and the control we once took for granted?

Our anxiety is perhaps greater than ever before, because the global and civilized world we felt emerging and melding us into one large community just a few short years ago, now seems rifted by cultural, religious, and economic chasms so wide they appear to be permanent divides.

Is it just a few short-lived cataclysmic events in history, or is it the periods of prolonged upheaval that brought about such anxiety? The state of affairs—both in this country and abroad—did not come about in a in a short space of time or with a few horrific events. It is just that the infamous date of 9/11, the subsequent war, and the near collapse of our financial industry just got more of our attention.

The forces—evil and otherwise—that brought us to this point in human civilization have been brewing for a long, long time. Unfortunately, many of us still have not gotten the messages.

Some of us not only still long for the way things used to be, but we also actually believe that things have not changed. Too many of us expect to go on with our lives, and expect our dreams and our celebrations to go on just as they always have, in the sovereign American way, ignoring the winds of change around us.

For good or bad, change is inevitable. So, why not make it work for the best? Is it possible that despite the pain, uncertainty, and the strong sense that our safety is compromised, that we still feel a greater opportunity to reconnect with the fundamental and inescapable tenets—we may have lost sight of—that are necessary for us to have a healthy society?

What meaningful reflections could inform our discussion around our Thanksgiving dinner tables? What is our role in fostering positive societal outcomes? Might there be value in having a conversation with our children, our future leaders, which impresses upon them a few valuable lessons:

As much as they are told or would like to believe, they are not the center of things. No individual, race, or country is the center of the universe. We all occupy space. We all have purpose and roles to play.

No one should build the quality of their life on the backs of other human beings. The oppressed eventually rise. History is replete with such examples.

One does not have to go about his or her daily affairs with utter, even partial, disregard for their neighbor, colleague, friend, relative, or stranger.

Perhaps, Ignorance is bliss, but only in love and only for a time. Ignorance generally, is the breeding ground for vulnerability, which keeps those living in ignorance at a disadvantage.

Burying one’s head in the sand solves nothing. We learned that from the ostrich.

As we begin our celebration of this holiday season, perhaps it should be more than tradition as usual. Tradition may allow us to become complacent, and accepting, of the religious fanaticism right here on American soil, as well as abroad, and the wanton greed that bestows untold riches at the expense of the unsuspecting.

We have either not paid much attention to all that is going on around us, or we are totally oblivious to many of the ugly forces that reign in our immediate and distant world.

Religious intolerance and racial hatred is not new. It occupies too many pages in the histories of too many countries. It is the common tie of human nature that binds us—the ugly equalizer.

How much longer can we afford to refuse to see, to acknowledge, and to try to understand the differences among us, rather than shun, alienate, or exploit them?

The many things we take for granted have often made it easy for us to ignore an age-old premise: It is the kinship and the mutual respect afforded to and by each of us around the table of humanity that will ultimately save us, or the lack thereof that will ultimately bring our own demise.

This holiday season, let us begin to advance the conversation.