What scares me the most is ourselves— how we treat one another, how we perceive one another, and how we go about this world living as if we are truly different from one another.
Many years ago, I found a quote on the cover of a prayer book— the entire world is a narrow bridge. Throughout my life, I have toiled to find meaning in these words, but to no avail. These simple seven words held such complexity that their significance remained elusive, compelling me into a state of frustration. It was only months ago that I discovered there is a second half to that quote— the essential thing is not to fear at all. Over a decade has past since my quest for true understanding began, but perhaps it was destined that I was to find the second half today, in this fragile time for humanity, in the context of a world that so desperately must grasp its essence. What I now understand is that we are all standing on that narrow bridge, one that will remain unsteady until those who are fearful of the stranger next to them understand that the only way across is together.
Ultranationalism can not only make us blind to the past, but allows it to be resurrected. The impact of conflict-driven migration from predominantly Muslim nations, most notably Syria and Afghanistan, has not only added to shifting demographics of Europe, but also incited a surge in xenophobia, islamophobia, and, for a variety of reasons, anti-semitism— all of which strikingly parallels the isolationist sentiments of post WWI. The mass exodus of refugees over the past decade has catalyzed a culture of fear in both America and a multitude of European nations, causing those fleeing persecution to be met with maltreatment of a different kind: hate. The resurgence of anti-immigrant attitudes continue to gain in strength and popularity, all while millions continue to fall victim to the hands of war and atrocity. We often neglect to understand the difference between nationalism and patriotism; to close our doors on those most in need is to shut out all diversity can bring. We cannot allow our borders to define our character, for one day it may be ourselves standing on the other side.
We cannot wait for anyone to build our bridge, for we must vow to act as our own leaders. Remember: life is not about what you are, but who you are. Who you are— who we are as a generation— rests entirely on our shoulders. Finding yourself, what you stand for, what makes your heart beat and your mind restless should not be a task of intimidation, but one of empowerment. Who you are is not defined nor confined by the degrees you hold or the titles you bear–– in a world that too often seems destitute of morals, your ethics and your commitment to uphold them, matters most. Who you are is someone that can embody the notion that from small actions comes great change, and that all you need is your voice, your hands, and your heart to do so. In this new era of populism, who you are means everything.
Conflicts do not begin with bullets. Rather, they start from somewhere deep inside, from misguided passions that stem from a place far deeper than politics gone wrong, but from a human fear of difference, of change, and of the unknown. As I said, what scares me most is ourselves. My honest hope is not that we will mitigate all the world’s problems, but that we will remember where our problems began. Who we are as a global community is dependent on who you are as an individual. You have the power to change how we treat one another, how we perceive one another, and how we go about this world living as if we are truly different from one another. Until then, we are traversing across an unsteady bridge, where we are all as stranded as those who are displaced.
Speak across difference, act with empathy, and live with compassion towards all— everything else will follow.