Wednesday, November 7, 2012

How do we come together now?

Obviously, I’m not an avid blogger since it’s been over 3 years since I last posted here. But after the election last night, I got to thinking about the last time I sat down to write on our blog. It was shortly after a very different election in Iran back in 2009. There was also a divided population with different ideologies. The demonstrations following the elections led to violence and bloodshed with many lives lost or ruined forever. Being so connected to those events, I do not take lightly people’s calls today for riots, and the deep-rooted fear of some that we should start arming ourselves in “preparation” – though for what, I don’t understand.

More than anything else, I think our election today was a wake-up call for America that we can no longer close our eyes to the changing demographics of our nation and the increasing diversity of us as Americans. We have to start talking – rationally and without fear – about the hopes, concerns and lack of understanding we have of each other. The bottom line is that this election wasn’t about race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, social status, age or a myriad of other factors – it was about all of those things. And the more we point to one group or another, the more we try to isolate “them” - whomever “them” is at the moment – the more we pull ourselves apart. We have seen this happening, and we need to stop.

Confronting our diversity in order to be a more inclusive nation - in order to be a more perfect union - has to be a personal journey for each of us. We each come with our own experiences, beliefs, values, and biases that can cause us to either close ourselves off from people we don’t understand, or to shrink from reaching out to those who are different from us. Coming together as a country requires us all to explore who we are individually and collectively in order to understand each other more fully.

I’ve been thinking back to when I first recognized I had biases about others. It was when Nickrooz and I had started dating. I rapidly had to come face to face with some misconceptions I held about the Middle East and Iran. It was tough to face my prejudices – no doubt about it. Admitting a group of people or region of the world made me uncomfortable required opening up myself to a range of feelings: frustration that I held biases about others, fear that I was a “bad person” or was narrow-minded overall, and anxiousness about what other prejudices I might hold. What I didn’t know at the time was that it was also a chance to start seeing the world from a different vantage point. I didn’t know then what crossing that threshold would mean for me, but I’m thankful I found the courage to look inside myself and begin examining the biases I’d picked up throughout my life. When I started acknowledging how much I didn’t know about others, I opened myself up to a whole world of people I might otherwise have blindly misjudged, feared, or worse yet, offended or hurt unintentionally.

Had I not taken the step, it’s very likely I would have missed the many wonderful years Nickrooz and I have shared together, learning from each other’s background and growing together. Had I not confronted my fears, I would not have gone to Iran and realized first-hand the beauty of the country, the generosity of it’s people and understood how badly distorted our view is of the Middle East and Iran in particular. Had I retreated back to only that which I was comfortable with, I might have never have learned so much about so many people whose backgrounds, lives and beliefs vary in ways both large and small from my own.

I didn’t know at the time taking that first step was only the beginning. It’s a journey I’m still on today. With as much as we’re all connected across the world now, each day brings new experiences and things to learn. I will say that confronting that which I don’t understand hasn’t necessarily gotten any easier, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

In this election, I’ll admit I got pretty fired up at times – my frustration fueled by the fact that we seemed to resort increasingly to sound bites and media hype on both sides rather than talking and listening to each other. I’m a Facebook fan, but as I reflect back, I’m as guilty as many of not taking the extra time to look beyond the posts to try to understand a different perspective.

So now here we are, one day after the election, and many of us are talking or posting about how we can come together again as a country. A person on Facebook recently asked if we’d all be talking as much about reconciliation and healing if Romney had won. My response? Yes – we have to. We can’t afford not to. Fear is not the answer. Threats of riots and guns are not the answer. Violent words or action of any kind are not the answer. The answer lies instead in confronting our fears and talking respectfully about our differences.

After giving this a lot of thought, I’m making a vow today to continue to learn about people and ideas that are different from my own. I’ll admit that trying to understand a conservative viewpoint from the far right is tough for me. Actually, extremes on either side bother me. But I want to learn and understand. I feel that it’s what I as an individual American can do.

So let’s talk. Not to try to convince or sway each other – but to understand and move towards each other again. We can do this. We will be far stronger as a nation by reaching out to each other than we will by pulling apart and continuing to go our separate ways, blind to others’ perspectives.

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