If you look at satellite images of earth, you see the continents, large land masses with no borders, nothing stopping them until they touch the sea. There isn’t a real division of states in America or markers between countries in Europe. Those exist only on maps, or when you notice the strategically placed signs as you whiz by on the highway. In truth, the dissection of the country, or the earth for that matter, is man-made. Those invisible lines separate us, labeling us as Texans or Georgians or Italians or British. And so it is true with the individuals who make up a society.
I often wonder if there is some innate need for us to classify folks, grouping people into some tidy category based on culture or race or sex or gender or age or religion or occupation or political affiliation. We justify such thinking as a way to further identify each other, to unite us with those who are like-minded, but, often, it divides us, highlights our differences instead of that which we share Is it any wonder that we view our dissimilarities with fear and suspicion?
When you give something a label, you call it into existence. And just as we are named when we are born, so then, does that title deemed to something give it life. When those invisible markers cause us to eye each other with suspicion, making broad stereotypical assumptions, the results are often destructive, rather than constructive. We fear what we don’t understand, which leads to a vicious cycle of living by focusing on how different we are. It is a sad commentary on our societal views.
So here is a concept that has been around since the days of Moses, an idea that is both positive and beneficial: what if the label we used was inclusive? What if came to realize that we are all one human family? Now before you roll your eyes at this pie-in-the-sky idea, consider what it means to be a part of a family. You may not like Uncle Louie’s habits and you might find Cousin Harriett a little eccentric, but you accept them for who they are. And, in fact, as you whisper, “bless their hearts” as we say in the South, you try to find something redeemable, maybe even loveable, in each of them. After a shared holiday meal, you stand shoulder to shoulder at the kitchen sink in a cooperative cleanup effort. So yeah, perhaps, “I’ll wash, you dry,” is the ultimate bonding moment between very different people. That’s the beauty of family. You help each other. And you defend each other. You celebrate the triumphs, compliment the talents, and try like the dickens to ignore the shortcomings.
I am an only child. When I was a little kid, I was so jealous of the built in playmates that my buddies with siblings had, the laughter in their busy homes. And as I grew older, I longed for those close ties with someone who had known me for my whole life and shared so many common memories. Since that wasn’t a possibility for me, I subsequently learned that family really is the people whom you invite into your heart, those you come to love by choice, not obligation, and those who, in return, care about what happens to you. My true friends have been precious, and much like sisters, helpful and kind in ways that have given me strength when I was weak and optimism when I had none. But it is their compassion and affection that reminded me that although not my blood, I love them as though they were. If adoption works in such instances; why couldn’t it take on larger implications as well?
You know, Monet had cataracts, which gradually distorted his vision so much that it changed the way he created his art. His fuzzy style of painting might seem like some aesthetic innovation, a new twist on impressionist art, but in reality, it was simply a reflection of what he saw. And so it is with us, we use broad strokes to paint life as we see it, but our experiences affect the way we perceive everything. We look at the world through our self-made windowpanes, and often the view is distorted, clouded by our own sensibilities. But understanding that everybody else does this too is an important first step toward unity. Wouldn’t it be lovely if we viewed each person we met as a distant cousin or better yet, a brother or sister? After all, aren’t we told to love our neighbor as ourselves? It is the second of all the commandments. But sometimes, it is the hardest. Truly. And until we are able to see our humanity in each other’s eyes, to recognize our kinship as children of the same Divine Creator, we miss the possibilities of true connection, uncovering the sacred within us all in the process. Like any loving parent, God certainly smiles when His children play well together.