This week in the midst of television news with the continued horrors of gun violence, the various definitions of "freedom" from right to left, and the realization of its nonexistence in the middle of contention, demands, ratings, and a mule-headedness that would put the animal to shame, I happened to catch basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on an evening talk show. He donned a T-shirt that read And I got to thinking , remembering...
By Jacqui Jill
Walking into life situations without preconceived ideas may leave us vulnerable, susceptible, yet open to experience whatever comes our way. This is one way in which targeted news media with hype and spin, those uncanny abilities to plant seeds of division, derision, or decision, has helped to polarize people. It has been an intended consequence much like the NYC street-corner three-shell game. While you're busy figuring out which shell is hiding the coin, your pocket is being picked...and you get to blame the guy next to you, but never yourself!
At 14, I was banished from home due to a failing grade in Algebra. Boarding school was the sentence! At first, I spent weeks feeling sorry for myself, ostracized, even unloved. But as time went on, I had to acclimate to my circumstances. Since the school was over 100 miles away, many of my weekends were spent with other boarders and local students in Massachusetts whom I learned to live with, to listen to...and we all became friends. These were girls from Haiti, The Dominican Republic, Mexico, Honduras, Canada, Guatemala, El Salvador, and various Mid-Atlantic and New England states. In sharing time, stories, we found mutual respect, sought understanding, and forged some friendships that have lasted now almost 55 years.
One weekend, I had been invited to go to a friend's home for a Saturday. My friend Karen lived in Dorchester, Massachusetts on the outskirts of Boston. I was unfamiliar with neighborhoods, areas of town, whatever objections might arise. I just knew that I was the guest of my friend. And oh, yes, she was black. But as I grew and got to know Karen and other people, their qualities, friendship, caring, conversation created a masterpiece canvas of colors where everything connected to create a theme, a work of art in which to revel, learn, and grow. As I look back now, I remember a feeling of being a in Dorchester, but I honestly felt proud of the friendship we had, I felt secure with the friendship we had, and took the experience in stride.
At another low point in life, I had nowhere to stay one evening. I took a train to work in Manhattan unsure where I was going to spend the night. I was uneasy and very afraid. As it so happened, I was working a different shift than my usual. One of my coworkers, a short Muslim woman named Fatima with kind, dark eyes asked me why I had changed shifts. Unable to think of anything other than the truth, I told her of my plight. Without hesitation, she told me that I was staying with her at her apartment in Elmhurst, Queens. I had never been to Elmhurst, but I somehow felt safe, and her genuine spirit seemed to calm a nerve-wracking situation. When we arrived she thanked me for accepting and told me that, in her belief, when faced with a trial to help a fellow life-traveler, it is a blessing from God, a chance to do good, to help, to earn intangible rewards. She was thanking me for giving her the chance to be of service, to help, to care in a time when it was needed.
Today we are in a world of division, made more divisive for reasons known only to the dividers-usually for their own personal self-interest and gain. By understanding that hate and violence have no place in a society, a world in which we have been given the gift of collaboration to secure and advance progress, we see a new paradigm of collaboration, of cooperation, and of harmony as it becomes tangible reality.
If you've never driven a stick-shift, it can be a daunting, even scary situation. But like anything else, once something is experienced, it often takes on another aspect and the first hurdle is overcome. Everything becomes manageable.
So before prejudging someone with prejudice, take a moment to breathe and really listen to 'the other'. You may just find in the process, make a friend and change the world!