I’m strolling down the street and I walk into my favorite coffee shop.
The shop is full of people chatting about their morning, their weekend, politics and the proper way to brew a cup. Some people are yelling, some are laughing and others are crying holding their neighbor’s hand.
There’s a lady wearing a hijab recounting her weekend with a blonde in a skirt. A white man in boots and coveralls is arguing about politics with a black man in a suit. A teenager is enthusiastically sharing his new love for hip-hop with a priest. An Indian woman in a sari is sharing her new favorite recipe with a transgender woman. A Mexican immigrant is crying with an Iraqi teenager while sharing their stories of loss. A black woman is practicing her new business proposal pitch with an Asian woman.
Then the witching hour approaches—8:45 a.m.—it’s time to head to work. Everyone stands to leave. Some people hug or shake hands to say good-bye, others nod or bow, but they all leave feeling respected, accepted and invigorated to meet what the day will bring.
Outside the coffee shop on the streets, cops greet you as you walk by and wish you a safe day, young folks help older adults board buses, men and women open doors for each other and every passerby looks you in the eye giving you a nod and smile.
No matter how rotten your day may become, you walk into work knowing that you are a part of a community and your humanity alone was enough to gain you acceptance.
This short story does not have to be fiction. It can be the reality for each and every one of us who occupy this land.
I am exhausted and saddened by the level of division this country has allowed. I am disgusted by the fact that much of the current and past division has been fostered and encouraged by political leaders for their personal gain. We are all humans. We all want to be loved and respected; we all want to live happy and prosperous lives; we all want the freedom to live our lives in peace, while practicing the religion of our choice, falling in love with whomever we desire and displaying our culture proudly.
We cannot rely on public figures to show us the way of understanding and acceptance, so we as collective individuals must display to our children, colleagues, families, friends and neighbors what it means to be a leader. We can do so by having thoughtful conversations, listening to others without motive, speaking out against bigotry and correcting inaccurate information in respectful ways.
Above all else, accept that no one person has all of the answers, not a left-wing liberal or a right-wing conservative. And to my fellow white folks, we must accept that we have no idea what it’s like to be a person of color, and then figure out how to be an ally without making it about us.
We are all members of one race: the human race. To collectively tear down the “wall” that is artificially dividing us, we must embrace this fact and solve the issues that are holding us back, together, without singling out one group and laying blame on them. And then maybe that fictional short story will become a reality.
As the first step to turning that story into reality, we need to think about action. All too often we expend energy talking about our frustrations and hopes for this country, but we don’t spend enough time doing something to end suffering and improve our society. I refuse to be complicit with the oppressor; I strive to be a doer and here is what I’m going to do:
1. As a neighbor, I’m going to have more meaningful conversations with people outside of my bubble—people who don’t always think like me—in hopes of gaining insight into their view of life and how they approach issues plaguing this country. By doing this I hope we can learn something from each other and unify.
2. As a yoga teacher, I will continue to create a nonjudgmental environment of love, acceptance and understanding in my classes, where all people feel welcome. I truly believe that all living creatures are connected and so I will use my words and body language to personify this belief of connectivity and invite my fellow yogis to approach humanity in the same way.
3. As a citizen, I will pay greater attention to local, state and federal policy, and I will write or call my elected officials to share with them what I think needs to be done to better our community. I believe in the power of civic engagement to combat injustice. But I all too often fall into the trap of only sharing my frustrations and solutions with people in my bubble; this approach solves nothing.
What will you do? What commitments will you make to unify the country and eliminate injustice?
I bow to the spirit in you. Namaste.
Author: Samantha Hedges
Image: AK Rockefeller/Flickr
Editors: Nicole Cameron; Emily Bartran