Some thoughts on playing nice in a xenophobic sandbox

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, September 22, 2010

Why are we so afraid of people who are different from us – the “foreigners” in our midst?

We march against them in the streets; burn their flags, buildings and sacred books; imprison them on trumped-up charges; and slander them with sensational e-mails we gleefully forward to everyone in our address book without ever checking the facts.

Can’t we get it through our thick skulls that we’re all in the same sandbox, and when we treat it like kitty litter, we all wind up playing in the same filth?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as my local coffee companions will be quick to point out.

In fact, some have even been helping me understand a better way.

Take the visit I had with Keith and Joy Newman a week ago at Cochrane Coffee Traders, for example.

Keith and Joy have spent most of their lives building bridges of understanding and reconciliation between peoples historically at odds with one another. The book they handed me was a gift echoing their latest initiative: improving relations between Muslims and non-Muslims.

David Liepert’s Muslim, Christian and Jew is a healing look at the religious conflict threatening our world. Liepert, a Calgary-based anesthesiologist and adult convert to Islam, is interfaith and media director and spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Calgary.

He offers what he hopes is a sensitive summary of each of the three major Western religions. There is beauty in all, he says, but too often there is also the ugliness of bad behaviour.

“I think . . . we should accept that we’re going to be together for a while,” he writes. “Since we don’t know how long that’s going to be, it might be best if we just settle in and try to enjoy the ride. . . .

“If we’re trying to do and believe what’s right, then none of us are going to be completely wrong either. If God is good, then no matter who’s right or who’s wrong, in the end, it is either possible, probable, or inevitable that faith – in all its myriad manifestations – will eventually make us all one as well. Until then, let’s try to be kind. Remember, God loves everyone else, too.”

This emphasis is not unlike the wisdom I received this week in an e-mail from another of my coffee companions.

Brian Ward sent me a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. What was serendipitous about this was that, only a few days earlier, King’s words had come up in a conversation I was having at Cochrane’s Java Jamboree coffee shop with Michael and Judie Bopp.

Michael and Judie are specialists in participatory change. The heart of their concern is well expressed in a book they provided me by another Calgary author.

Arthur Clark begins his recently published book, The ABCs of Human Survival: A Paradigm for Global Citizenship, by referring to the same quote Brian sent me:

“Martin Luther King Jr.’s concise and memorable statement describes the choice we face as human beings: ‘We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.’”

Clark, professor of neuropathology at the University of Calgary, has long been concerned over the culture of militant nationalism. This book reflects his vision for establishing a Calgary Centre for Global Community as a response to that destructive culture.

King’s quote is the driving force behind that vision. The first part of King’s statement – learning to live together as brothers – is what Clark terms “Option A.” That’s “the advantageous option,” he says. The rest of the quote – perishing as fools – he labels “Option B.” This is “the bad option.” Clark’s book is a plea to embrace Option A.

Option A “abandons the nationalist delusion that we are first of all Americans or Canadians or Germans or Japanese, Jews or Christians or Muslims, or members of some other subgroup,” he writes. “The new paradigm recognizes a more basic aspect of reality: we are first of all human beings and members of a global community.”

He presents his book “as a conceptual framework for a life of action and transformation – or at least for understanding why we human beings keep driving ourselves toward catastrophe.”

It’s Clark’s hope that his book will “prompt readers to use their creative and responsible imaginations and to engage in redirecting the course of world events” – to make a difference in our sandbox.

Which brings me back to Cochrane’s Men Making a Difference gathering I spoke of in last week’s column. The Oct. 15-16 men-only event really is all about using our creative and responsible imaginations for playing nice in the sandbox. With Cochrane Eagle publisher Jack Tennant as emcee, could it be otherwise? For details, phone 403-851-2250.

© 2010 Warren Harbeck

Return to Coffee With Warren home page