We Are Not So Different, You and I

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I won’t ruin it for you, but Avital Chizhik has hit another home run in her latest article. This time she has been published by the NY Times in their Opinionator Blog.

The article teaches an important lesson in tolerance. We tend to focus on our differences. I know I am certainly guilty of this. Everyone is guilty of it. The best tool in our arsenal of building tolerance and creating bridges is to focus on our similarities. When we see other people who look so different or who affiliate themselves so differently, we tend to zone in on those stark differences.

But isn’t it true that we are much more alike than we are different?

With fellow Jews, we share much more than we realize sometimes. Often the people we like least are the people that are closest to us ideologically. But that is not a reason to hate someone else. That should be a ton of reasons to like someone else.

With members of other faiths we also share so much. Sure we disagree on some things, but overall we agree on a lot. This is the key to interfaith relations.

With secular people we share so much. Sure we disagree on a few big name items, but we agree on many things. If we can focus on the things upon which we agree, a lot of the anger and disdain will fall away. There is absolutely no reason that religious and secular people cannot work together on projects and ideas that are compatible with our mutually held beliefs.

The 20th century and the early 21st century brought strong feelings of nationalism. As the world shrunk, people needed to self identify more strongly with their ethnicity or religion. People were introduced to new cultures and ways of life that they never new existing. It created existential angst. In response, people retreated to their more tribal instincts as they needed a way to set themselves apart. The world suffered through several wars as a result of this nationalism and exclusionary philosophy.

Yet, the world continued to shrink and people continue to create imaginary lines between themselves and others as a defense mechanism to the world shrinking. It doesn’t make us stronger as individuals. It does not make our communities or religious groups stronger. It does not make society stronger.

Weakening our ties to each other weakens the human race in every possible way. The first step to making things right is recognizing what is highlighted in this article.

Go read it. Then take its lesson to heart.

Link: NY Times

  • bxpansive

    “A blessing for a friend is a blessing for oneself,” or something similar. I think that I heard that from a Muslim co-worker or maybe a Baptist co-worker. So many people live a pity party, play the victim if only in their own minds. The Sages state in Peiki Avot that envy or jealousy, among a few things, take a person out of the world. Love your neighbor as yourself. The recipient of the actions of another person can trust/understand that G-d has agreed to the received action. Yes, the actor is responsible for her or his action, but whatever we received is between us and G-d.

  • DavefromBoston

    I thought the post was well-written and poignant. HOWEVER, I have been in the situation described by the author in a grad-school setting, where my closest friends in the class were Muslims. We had our “chumros” and family lifestyles in common and we were able to easily relate to one another. They even ate in kosher Israeli establishments because they were considered “Halal”. BUT we seldom discussed politics, of Israel or anything beyond cursory mentions of our cultural claims. It got tense and we broke off the topic. I think the author is perhaps a bit jaded in this respect. My suspicion is that, had she invited her neighbors to Mincha, they would have been offended and scornful.