Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Buon Anno

I wanted to share something that I found inspirational yesterday morning, especially as it's relevant to a new year, new goals, etc. As you may or may not know, I'm a software developer and am active in a few open source communities. As such, I participate in/communicate via various channels including mailing lists, and yesterday morning a mail came into my inbox that struck me. For the sake of anonymity I will not mention any names, and I will paraphrase the email as saying:

"Merry Christmas,

Let's all pray for peace and a better world in the New Year.

Best wishes to all my friends on the XXX list for the New Year,
XXX XXX
"

"Big deal" you say.
"Every one prays for world peace" you say.

Indeed, and I consider myself cynical and groan at such tired clich├ęs when I hear them. However the context of this message changed all that for me. The author's name is clearly of middle-eastern origin. I don't know what country and for all I know he could be a Catholic from a country governed by a liberal democracy. However from his writing it's clear that English is a second language and his time zone also indicates middle-eastern origin.

I'm going to be so bold as to draw some conclusions here. I assume he is Muslim and living in the Middle East, and so it's not difficult to understand if he feels some degree of tension regarding the western position there. At this point you may think me prejudicial, and to that I can only say that I am not... at least not consciously. I remember an experience I had 3 or so years ago; I was boarding a plane when I noticed someone who appeared middle-eastern. I remember feeling fear, wondering if by some small chance I was on the next plane marked as a target, and at the same time feeling deeply ashamed for being gripped by such fear. My fear was a reflex; an autonomous reaction triggered by some combination of variables in my brain. On the other hand, my shame was self-inflicted. I knew this kind of superficial categorization was wrong and there is no debating that. I don't believe we can control, at least not directly, reactions such as the one I experienced, but I know we can control how we respond to them.

Having explained and disclaimed myself, I wanted to say that reading these words from someone like this was moving. I mean this was (probably) a middle easterner wishing a mailing full of westerners a Merry Christmas, and encouraging us all to pray for a peaceful 2008!

I agree with him, and I want to extend his invitation to you. However I want to take it a step further: I encourage you to commit to knowing people with differing perspectives, no matter how grave. Certainly there are people in the world that simply wish to do harm, but I have never encountered such a person in my life. I strongly believe that people who commit to knowing and learning about other cultures are much more likely to agree that there can be peace, even in the face of such sharp differences. I met a British guy last night at a new year's party and we talked about this very subject. He said to me that well-traveled people, regardless of origin, tend to be much less likely to hold nationalistic prejudices or to fit into negative stereotypes placed on their cultures, simply because they have experienced others and so understand their value. I couldn't agree more.

In this New Year I challenge you to purposely know others.

1 comment:

Giusi said...

If we could only all stop thinking our version of reality and truth is the only one, we might actually have a prayer. I never wish for anything except an end to hunger and peace on earth, but I am cynically beginning to believe that it will only come when humanity destroys itself.
That's an ugly thought, so let's instead hope that your friend and you and I can actually push enough power up there to move the rock of meanness and selfishness.

Buon anno and pace in terra.