There is no ‘Other,’ There is only Us (finding small hopes)

There is far too much darkness in our world these days; too much hate, too much pain, too much anger. We lost track of the common threads that bound us together and now we are lost, traipsing through an unfamiliar place. I grew up believing in a world far better than the one we have made for ourselves; and let there be no mistake, we have created this poor broken thing. I grew up believing in the heart of the words spoken by great humans like Martin Luther King Jr and Nelson Mandela. When we come into this world our souls are soft and unhindered by the rules and stereotypes that society places on us. As we grow we begin to believe these false narratives that we have been given, seeing the world through a very specific set of eyes and that are not open to the whole picture. We refuse to let ourselves grow because change is always so damn scary. So we lock ourselves into our chosen worldview and close the blinds. We demonize those we call ‘others’ because we do not understand them; after all, they are not like us. Or are they?

We are responsible for the world that we create, for the narratives that we contribute and consume. In the coming weeks I’ll be tackling this topic a lot from a multitude of angles, but today I will start with just this one. There are far too many voices out there to only be listening to ones that are similar to our own. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie states in one of her beautiful speeches, “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story… The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.” If we only ever listen to one story, to one narrative, to one side, then we rob ourselves of the beauty that is lost in the unknown. Ignorance is a dark and dreary place in a world that holds so much promise.

In 2017 we saw people rise up and stand together, we saw the opening of deep wounds in a hope to extract the poison, we stood, we clashed, we fought. We saw backlash, we saw anger, we saw fear. I was deeply moved and deeply troubled at the same time. It is true that every important societal shift came to us through a painful struggle. We celebrated one of these battles yesterday when we recognized a man who lost his life in the pursuit of a better world, for tolerance and love. We are living in an interesting time, and we are the ones who control what kind of world we pass on to our children.

It does not always take grand sweeping gestures to invoke substantial change. Sometimes all it takes is turning the tide within a single heart. We are not often aware of our biases and prejudices. The first true step to change is one of brutal honesty coupled with an open heart. To understand what is different from us requires us to step outside of the walls we have built and expose our souls to something new.

In the spirit of change and hope, in the spirit of great men and women who have fought this battle before us with words instead of swords: in this spirit I challenge myself, as well as you, if you are up to the task. Go out and explore the world- do something new, talk to strangers, explore cultures, read books by authors you have never heard of, watch movies you would never see. Discover what is ‘other’ to you and make it familiar.

I am going to start this challenge with something simple: I challenge myself to read about places I have never been to and lives I have never lived. I will immerse myself in their words until I see I see my own truths within them. My diversity reading challenge starts now. Any and all suggestions will not only be welcome, but will guarantee a future post to discuss them. So please- if you have any books, movies, videos, songs- anything at all that inspires diversity or speaks to your own soul- please share.

We owe it to ourselves and one another to hear all of the stories that the world is trying to whisper in our ears. It is only with a view that encompasses the full human experience will we ever find the peace within ourselves that we have always been looking for.

Reading Dangerously

Books have the ability to shape minds and sculpt opinions, they are as diverse as the people we share this beautiful world with. They can change us if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves and our beliefs. What we choose to read will show in who we become as people, and, as creators, it will become apparent in what we bring into this world. Whatever your chosen medium is, you have the power to make an impact with it, to become timeless and honest. I want to write books that change people, I want to pen articles that make others question what they thought, or provide them with a glimmer of hope that they are not alone, that they have an ally in a world that has too few. I want to write Dangerously, and to do that, I must read the same way.

When I was in high school we had weekly opinion pieces to write and then group debates on a myriad of subjects we originally knew nothing about, and a few key topics our teachers were brave enough to let us choose ourselves. One of their favorite things to do: make us argue a side we deeply opposed. Why? Because it forces you to learn, it compels you to challenge your own views and opinions and, in effect, discover a sense of compassion for those you disagree with.

It is no secret that we live in an interesting time; though not as unique as we may imagine it to be. We have hot button issues that compel passions within individuals that are unrivaled. Passion is a double-edged sword, and in a world of misinformation, skewed propaganda, and sensationalization: passion can be a unforgiving and dangerous blade. It seems that searching for information and challenging our own thoughts has become too difficult a task. It is far too easy to get swept away in the sea of words we have billowing out around us.

At the end of 2016 I started working through some of the books I’ve left idling on my shelf, books that ignited a curiosity and passion inside of me, some of them made me question my current belief system, and others managed to reinforce my opinions with information that I did not previously possess. They gave me a fire, and a deeper understanding of the world around me. And they reminded me of how complicated and colorful our world really is. 

I believe in tolerance and compassion, but there are many cultures and social issues I still only had limited knowledge of. I felt unable to voice my opinion in fear that I was missing something. At the same time, I feel we all have a social obligation to help one another and defend each other from unwarranted hate and preconceived notions.

It was my desire to challenge and educate myself that led to a very specific goal this year, one that I suspect will continue far longer than these 12 coming months. The challenge: to read dangerously, to confront my own views and biases and force them to make a case, to expand my knowledge and, with that, my understanding of this complicated world that we live in. It is a year to remember those long-forgotten facets of our history and find the correlation with our current troubles. It is a chance to propel ourselves to be better people.

I was originally thinking about monthly themes, and while I may eventually transition that way, right now I am simply enjoying the extensive and random selection of books I own but have been sitting unread. I have books covering all subjects: history, religion, race issues, sexuality, the sciences, biographies of strong women, athletes, and world leaders, philosophy, classics and modern tales that shape us in unseen ways. I have books that I suspect will support my current beliefs, and ones that I have a strong inclination will test them. 

Now, I have hopes that this will be somewhat interactive, though I think it will evolve a bit as we go. I have just finished Voyage of the Damned, a phenomenal book I will be doing a follow-up post on in the coming week (spoiler: I highly recommend it). If you would like to see the 2016 books that inspired this, feel free to peek here: Tipsy Typer’s Top Ten Year-End Literary Lovelies

My current selections include an overview of world history in the form of The New Penguin History of the World because, well, I am a bit rusty and I’ve tried to read this lengthy tome many times- darn it, I will do it this time! Also, I am finally reading The Quran; I’ve always had an interest in religious studies and have read the texts of other religions, but have never made it to this one. Thus far it has been very eye-opening in terms of some of its similarities to a few other predominant religions. I think a big part of understanding and having compassion stems with educating yourself on what is important and fundamental to other people. Religion is a driving force for many, and learning to respect that and understand the similarities as well as the differences will go a long way on our road to acceptance and appreciation. I also just started a promising new read that follows my underlying theme: Threading My Prayer Rug

But I want to ask you all: what suggestions do you have for me? What books have changed you, expanded your views or made you ask questions? The genre, the subject matter, geared towards children or adults- there are no boundaries, any book that made you feel something, learn something, or challenged you in some way; I’d love to hear about it and add it to my list. And if you care to immerse yourself in your own Reading Dangerously challenge, feel free to comment; I think sharing this experiment with others would only help us all grow.

Cheers, my friends, may we forever find the strength within ourselves to keep growing and changing.