COEXIST with love and respect

COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
Cochrane Eagle, November 26, 2020

Years ago I came across a poster that read, “I like you. You’re different.” In general, that’s very much the spirit of our community life here in Cochrane, too, but from something that happened the other night, not everyone agrees. Let me start from the beginning.

Last week Heartland resident Bill McNarland ranted on Facebook that someone had torn his new COEXIST bumper sticker off his vehicle. “The purpose of the sticker is to provide a message that all of us, regardless of gender or beliefs, can get along lovingly,” he wrote. “What could be so offensive about that message that causes someone to take the time to remove it from my vehicle?”

As someone deeply committed to respecting our common humanity in our religiously and culturally diverse society, I was immediately intrigued by Bill’s story, so I contacted him. He’d grown up in a very opinionated home, no room for people of other faiths or different views on gender identity or the role of women. “I knew that this was wrong,” he lamented.

“As I grow older, I want to share a message of respect for people of different genders, faiths and sexuality. I have my views, but I respect everyone else's views and also am mindful that one day when I pass away, I may be enlightened that my view was not correct.”

The Cochrane-area owner of Starlite Graphics, Ltd. agrees. When he read Bill’s rant, he immediately did something about it. John Stevenson printed up his eye-catching, modified version of the COEXIST sticker, gave one to Bill, and provided a stack of them to Cam Elaine to share with his customers at Donair on the Run – for free! (And that’s where I got mine. Thanks, John and Cam.)

When I contacted John, he explained that he had the means to make up decals with relative ease. “I figured it might be a nice gesture to offer to replace this decal for Bill, and maybe run a few extras to spread some joy,” he said. “It seemed a simple and small gesture well within my ability to offer. I thought of the mounting toll of COVID, the U.S. election, the economy, heck, even the grey gloomy day that it was. We needed something sunny and GOOD!”

“This is not for profit,” he emphasized. “This is about furthering the message that COEXIST stands for.”

And just what is the message of COEXIST? The original design dates back to 2000 when Polish graphic artist Piotr Młodożeniec produced it to promote better understanding among Muslims (the C, representing the crescent moon of Islam), Jews (the X representing the Star of David of Judaism) and Christians (the T representing the cross of Christianity). Over the years it has evolved to include a wider diversity of ideologies, including gender identity and peace.

This is certainly in harmony with the Calgary Interfaith Council’s 2019 Civility Pledge, about which I wrote in my Feb. 7, 2019 column. Note especially points 1, 3 and 10 of the Pledge:

“I pledge to embrace the principle that all people are created equal and that each person possesses inherent dignity and goodness.”

“I pledge to prioritize relationships over ideologies by striving to appreciate people whose ideas I may disagree with.”

“I pledge to encourage others to engage in similar efforts to bring civility and compassion in their daily conversations in the home, workplace, and public arena.”

The COEXIST symbol I’ve included with this column is my photo of John Stevenson’s version, which, thanks to a little help from Photoshop clip art, I’ve placed within a golden frame. Why gold? Because it is my strong belief that the only hope of ever coexisting amicably in our complex world is to practice the widely-revered Golden Rule:

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”


© 2020 Warren Harbeck

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