It has been a long time since I wrote about the Garden. Finally my heart has been touched enough to say something. I pray that this writing blesses you, gives you hope, and brings you to thinking about a way through the darkness that I have seen in the Garden today.
I recently visited Europe. After a long year of planning and saving, I took a short break, looking to experience something totally different from my everyday… maybe come back with some new ideas… and friends.
It has been a long time since I was last there… nearly 30 years. But then I am not talking about the United Kingdom where I studied and subsequently visited more recently. I am talking about Europe.
What I saw and experienced shocked me. The Europe of yesterday, where the people were happy, confidently going about their business, confident in the fact that if they follow the rules and regulations, and do their best at their jobs and studies, they will be ok… the Europe of my childhood… that Europe is no more.
It happened only once, but when a lady who was at least 2 or 2 and 1/2 times my body size edged closer to the gentleman whom I assume was her husband, and then clutched his arm as we passed each other, it drove the point home. There was fear in her eyes, and I understood.
Europe … is afraid… and it made me afraid… for my own safety.
You see, I am black… or chocolate as my father prefers.
I am lucky to have had open minded parents and open minded employers. In fact, one of my former Caucasian employers once said to me… no one is actually white… we are all some range of cream or brown.
True… if I saw a truly white entity in the form of a human, I would immediately assume in fear that it is an apparition of some kind… in the same way, if I saw a truly black entity with only the whites of their eyes, and their nails and clothes showing, I would probably faint from fear.
Yet the world prefers to call me black, and others white. So I will use the term that the world understands, for what it is worth… I am black. I only ‘discovered’ I was black during my first trip to the UK at the age of 24. I had studied about colonialism, and had heard about racial discrimination, but … that is a story for another day. So before that fateful day, the term meant completely nothing untoward to me. It was a term used to describe people of my descent… so what?
I am also a woman. I was brought up to see myself first as a person, and only after that, recognize that ‘I am a woman’. That meant 1 thing to me: apart from matters of procreation, there was no difference between me and other members of the human species. I could do anything positive, go anywhere, and make a positive contribution to conversations, communities, humanity, my family and myself.. full stop… nothing more, nothing less.
Yet those 2 descriptions already highlight my ‘difference’ in the world I live in, and no matter what efforts my parents and caregivers put in to make me free, the world has made sure I understand that ‘I am different’.
To add to that, I have been brought up in a rather western way in a land not my own… it was not far from home, but the culture and lifestyle is different enough. So, as I was growing up, I was foreign…’I was different’… and when I come home, once again… ‘I am different’. I do not speak the way they do, I do not think the way they do, I do not perceive life the way they do. ‘I am different’… somewhere in between…neither here, nor there… just ‘different’.
So, I know very well what it means to be a fish out of water… what it means to be set apart, or falsely accused for ‘being different’. Yet, I am the person that I am, and my so called differences do not make me a danger to anybody.
Still, I know from my experience, that the rejections, false accusations and all manner of defensive actions are a sign that those around me fear my presence among them. They have some fear even if only because my presence may somehow cause change in their lives. They are not ready for the change that I ‘represent’.. even if it may be a positive change. They are not ready for it because they do not perceive it that way yet.
Thankfully, I have been blessed by God to also experience and therefore know what it means to be accepted even though, or because ‘I am different’. I chose by the grace of God to focus on the positive experiences, learn more about the people around me, take in what they do best, explain my point of view on what I know better. I have been thus blessed with the greatest relationships with people of different walks of life. I have read somewhere that God can create good out of evil events/experiences, and I have experienced this many times.
Nonetheless, it is a painful experience to be rejected, ostracized, falsely accused or held separate just because of who you are…especially that part of your being which you cannot change… because you are ‘different’.
Yet, even those who have been rejected, also reject others… including those who have rejected them… and it might just get worse when they get ‘back home’. My point is that we are all ‘guilty’ of some prejudice at one point or another in our lives… so who is to point fingers?
Many of us separate ourselves because we do not understand, and so fear of the other builds. Thus when some rogue elements in one community cause pain to the other community, the lack of knowledge and understanding creates fear of the entire community with rogue elements. And the people of goodwill in the ‘guilty’ community end up also living in fear of reprisals and false accusations because they belong to the community with ‘rogue elements’.
The fear builds on itself and brings with it distrust, and other ills that can only escalate if something is not done to stop the evil it in its tracks.
Somewhere in the media, social or otherwise, I have seen it said that poverty and lack of education are the cause of the problems in Europe, West Africa, East Africa… Someone I know asked in consternation how a foreign person whom their country has hosted and brought up in peace and safety all their lives can turn on them and kill them so unfeelingly.
Somewhere else in the media I have seen it said that the problem is not poverty or lack of education, but rather, disillusionment of the middle class youth. Yes, the middle class youth who are well educated and really not lacking anything are apparently the ones going into war with the rest of the world… hmm….
No matter what the visible cause, I have learned something in my short life that I feel is at the core of all the perceived causes of the problems we are experiencing: Where there is fear, evil prevails… because fear is not from God.
The fear is within our hearts and our minds, and it is palpable.
Something has to change. Our first step towards a better life and future has to be to eliminate fear… in our hearts, our minds and our communities. The politicians cannot do this for us. They cannot eliminate fear no matter how many more security forces they put on the ground around our homes and schools and places of work and places of worship.
I have also learned that, where knowledge and understanding are lacking, fear prevails.
This is simple and basic and touches every element of life. If you do not know how to ride a bicycle, you will fear the bicycle. If you do not know who that other person is, you will have some element of fear regarding them and their intentions towards you and yours. If you do not know how to perform a task, you will fear doing it. The degree of fear changes from person to person based on life experience, but it is there all the same.
In my humble opinion therefore, while the politicians continue to do what they do best, our first step towards eliminating fear, and pulling the rug out from under the feet of evil, is knowledge and understanding of one another. Not some superfluous knowledge scraped from some media report, but rather true knowledge of the person next to you at work, and in your neighborhoods and communities who is considered to be ‘different’.
I am not just talking about race, or faith or gender… I am talking any kind of difference that has nothing to do with the heart’s intent of that other person. That difference which is part of who they were created to be or look like. That difference which is part of their culture or lifestyle.
I say this from my little experience in a world of being ‘different’. When the other person understands my true intentions; when the other person understands my way of thinking; when the other person understands my misconceptions about their society or way of doing things, or culture; when the other person gets a chance to explain to me their way of doing things or their culture; when the other person gets a chance to explain to me their own fears about me and my ‘difference’; when we do this each with an open heart and mind, ready to take criticisms and explain ourselves without anger, seeking only love for one another, we powerfully weaken evil, and create peace.
So long as we are cognizant of what makes the other hurt, and are willing to make the slight adjustments needed – even if it is only by being more understanding of their reactions – we open the door to peace. When the other party does the same, we live in harmony.
Change will not happen in a day, a month and maybe not even in a year. But when people begin to openly dialogue man to man, woman to woman, colleague to colleague, neighbor to neighbor, community to community, the false understandings and gaps that create so much fear begin to fade. While politicians continue to work at the national and international level, we will have played our part in considerably weakening the chances of evil taking root or strengthening within our neighborhoods, workplaces, communities and cities.
We do not have to all become the same person… we just are better off understanding each other and our ‘differences’.
Yes, we will not suddenly all become members of one faith, or have the same perspectives or understanding or culture or lifestyle.. that is not the intention. But we will greatly reduce the unwarranted sources of fear. The peace that comes with this will shed light into the community bit by bit… and you know that light will always pierce through and overcome darkness. Someone just has to put on the light.
Many will not want to have anything to do with this suggestion. Many will dismiss it out of hand as impossible. Others still will see its value and misuse it, causing pain to many. But you who have goodwill in your heart, please do not give up hope for peace. Even if there are just 2 of you who are ‘different from each other’ and are both of goodwill, the feedback you take to your families will bring peace to them. Through you and your families the spread of understanding that humanity needs will begin. It will help to counter the false teachings that you or your children may be taught by some stranger of ill intent on the internet, or the street corner or the supermarket, or…
You and your family will know from a member of goodwill within the other community, the difference between truth and lies in their culture, faith, lifestyle, perceptions; and can reject the lies when you encounter them elsewhere. You can play a big part in protecting yourself or your children from being inculcated into a world of hate, and death… and you will have helped that person who is ‘different’ do the same for themselves and their families.
Am I being naive? Maybe… but something good starts with a single word or action, and the right intention in our hearts.
It may be tough to find members of the other community of goodwill. How will you know them? But I pray that all communities read this, pass on the idea, and the people of goodwill think and find a way to link with members of goodwill within the other community … and begin the dialogue that is much needed. So long as there is one person of good intent willing to start within a community, change will come… good and positive change.
The next step is forgiveness… but that is a story for another day.
For now, it is time to light a candle of peace in the Garden… heart to heart, mind to mind. I have lit mine… will you join me?
Come… walk with me in the Garden.
Copyright (c) 2015, Ophelia Swai. All Rights Reserved.