Six different faiths around the world have a version of The Golden Rule. This sweet art print reminder has been displayed on my refrigerator so long that it’s wrinkled and faded. And after all these years, I still don’t get it: How can so many people claim to be guided by these religions, yet radical violence, religious intolerance and who knows how many forms of war rage through towns, cities and countries all around this little planet?
Clearly, the wise words of leaders (spiritual or otherwise) aren’t enough to change our behavior. So, what does work?
We know that when disaster strikes, people come together to help one another: getting out the row boats to bring stranded people to safety, forming bucket brigades to put out a fire. I’m sure I’m not the only one with a vivid childhood memory of helping strangers. For me it was watching a Colorado a blizzard worsen and deciding to put on a big pot of vegetable soup or chili to warm the stranded motorists who inevitably spun out trying to drive their cars up the hill in front of our house.
Working together is another trust builder as the beer commercial “Worlds Apart” so brilliantly demonstrates. Faced with completing a shared task, we soon drop most extraneous judgments.
Forget what you’ve been told about the “survival of the fittest.” Researchers keep finding more evidence that we’re naturally inclined to be altruistic and respond to one another’s feelings. Ask anyone who’s worked in a nursery: When one baby starts crying, the others soon join in. Cooperation – whether it’s living in a difficult environment or making it through an Outward Bound style challenge – gets us through.
Birds of a feather do flock together – but how often does everyday life present us with flocks of those who look, act, dress and behave like us after junior high? Part of growing up involves learning how to navigate the tougher world when we’re not surrounded by our buddies or mates.
I’ve enjoyed the stories of people who are having their DNA tested in order to prove their notions of who they are – only to be stunned to discover that, beneath the skin they believe defines them, they’re genetic mixtures, not “pure” anything. After eons of migration, explorations and exploitation, we’re all pretty much mutts in this country. Take a heart-opening break and watch “All that We Share“ for a powerful reminder of our common humanity.
Yet there’s no shortage of bullies, demagogues and tyrants who try to exploit our differences to further their own ends. We’re still trying to heal from the ghastly treatment of Indigenous people from whom our country stole this land, and overcome the grim legacy of Jim Crow laws and now have a president who wants to legitimize treating Muslims and Mexicans as some frightening, less worthy “other.”
I’m a sucker for those videos of unusual animal friendships: A ferret and a cat curl up and nap together. A squirrel and wren, a dog and a fawn romp and play with each other. And then there’s a crow that adopted and nurtured a tiny stray kitten. Maybe it’s because I loved living with cats and dogs who hugely enjoyed one another’s company, appreciating how they invented games to play together, My hunch is that these cross-species connections are nature’s way of trying to tell us something. To awaken our appreciation of differences? Help us recognize that we’re all in this together? Or realize that war doesn’t show who’s right, only who’s left.
“Oppression never occurs between equals.” Margaret Wheatly writes in her exploration of human goodness. “Tyranny always arises from the belief that some people are more human than others. There is no other way to justify inhumane treatment, except to assume that the pain experienced by the oppressed is not the same as ours.”
Consider marking this International Day of Peace by talking with a stranger, maybe a homeless person or someone you wouldn’t ordinarily approach on the street.
Ask a question. Start a conversation.
“Wow, what an amazing shade of green in your hair. How’d you do that?”
“Hi there. You remind me of my friend Ben. Do you by any chance have a brother?”
“I’m new here. Could you please tell me where you think is the best place to get a cup of coffee?”
Remind yourself that you’re a good person, someone who knows how to greet someone as a fully human being.