Proverbs 11:29

I’m thinking that we should all remember the wisdom of Solomon in the Book of Proverbs:

  He that troubles his own house shall inherit the wind: 
     and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.

The phrase “own house” could easily be substituted with any (social?) group an individual belongs to: your friends, your family, a sports team, your colleagues at work, your country and so on. The tragedy is that it’s difficult to see when we are falling foul of this, because it really doesn’t take much. It seems to me that when one believes one is right it’s easy to become rigidly inflexible, it’s easy to lack consideration for the feelings of others, or indeed to dismiss them out of hand out of sheer frustration with the other rather than taking a step back and questioning one’s own standpoint. Worse is that it’s easy to overlook the immediate damage this can cause to relationships, to how people perceive you, and of-course their willingness to want to engage with you. It seems to me this should be interpreted as a serious lapse in judgment in any of us, and near fatal lapse in judgment for anyone in a position of authority/leadership; it tends to undermine trust by creating distance; it’s becomes a barrier to any constructive dialogue; and those around you can lose their voice. When that happens you have, quite literally, inherited the wind.

Part of the problem is that we are deeply emotional creatures, and we wear those emotions like a cloak around us. Something I’ve observed often is that even when an individual is putting forth an argument in a manner that he/she might feel is objective, concise, erudite and wholly reasonable, their body language, or language, or tone, or even a slight unconscious inflection when uttering a single word, can send out a completely different message. It’s this dichotomy that we create that puts us at odds with those observing us, those that we are trying to communicate with.

It’s actually quite amusing to observe when this happens during the current political debates taking place between the candidates in the American Presedential election. That’s not really not what I want to talk about though.

So I guess the question becomes, how do we guard against this? How do I know when I’m doing this? It shouldn’t be a paradox because in as much as we are emotional creatures we are also hugely perceptive creatures. Yet it becomes a paradox when you ask what is it about our emotions that seemingly overrides our ability to perceive the effect our words and actions have on others? or worse, what is it that overrides the need to perceive the effect we have on others – until the damage is already done?

Is it something that we can guard against by simply thinking or taking a moment to pause before speaking/reacting? Is this a quality that can be taught? or is this simply something we have to learn in the crucible of our own minds as we reflect on each time we make this mistake? or should we simply temper what we do with the knowledge that we are part of a (social) group and that our behaviour will reflect how much we are accepted and valued, or indeed, rejected by that group?

As an observation this is something I’ve learned the hard way, for me it was brought into sharp relief when my father died. Fortunately, as social groups go, families are rather more forgiving than others 🙂

"The universe speaks in many languages, but only one voice ... 
It speaks in the language of hope."

"It speaks in the language of trust. It speaks in the language of 
strength and the language of compassion. It is the language of the 
heart and the language of the soul. But always it is the same voice.
It is the voice of our ancestors speaking through us and the voice 
of our inheritors waiting to be born. The small, still voice that says: 
'We are one. No matter the blood, no matter the skin, no matter the 
world, no matter the star. .. We are one. No matter the pain, no 
matter the darkness, no matter the loss, no matter the fear. .. We 
are one.' Here, gathered together in common cause, we begin to 
realize this singular truth and this singular rule that we must be 
kind to one another. Because each voice enriches us and ennobles 
us and each voice lost diminishes us. We are the voice of the 
universe, the soul of creation, the fire that will light our way to 
a better future. We are one."
           G'Kar in "The Paragon of Animals"

How Muslims are treated in the USA

A friend of mine sent me a link to this video wanting to know how it made me feel. So here goes. The video is a a show produced by ABC News. It shows that Islamaphobia is very real and exists within the US, but that is not all it shows. I found it to be extremely moving because the show highlights both deep prejudices as well as a deep sense of justice that many everyday Americans possess.

The show uses a scenario played out in a popular bakery by a pair of actors as a way to see how the members of the public witnessing what is happening react. One actor plays a young Muslim woman in a hijab, the other actor plays a bigoted store clerk who refuses to serve her based on the fact that she is a muslim, he proceeds to insult her with all sorts of derogatory anti-Muslim remarks.

It’s the reaction of members of the public that is both deeply disturbing but also leaves me with a sense of hope. The majority of the bystanders who witnessed the incident chose not to get involved – tacit support for the clerk?. A minority spoke up and defended the young lady, whilst others, sadly, got involved vocally and supported the store clerk.

For some reason watching this unfold reminded me of videos I had seen in my history class at school depicting the terrible kinds of segregation that existed in American during most of the last century. Also as someone who has spent a lot of time in South Africa it evokes memories of apartheid and recalling the first hand accounts of men and women who lived under that regime.

In this case though I was genuinely moved by the actions of those bystanders who spoke up in defense of the young lady, who saw and injustice and spoke out against it. That fills me with hope.
There’s two old maxim’s that always spring to mind when I think of these things:

         Evil is at its worst when it is practised 
            by ordinary men and women.

         Evil thrives whilst good men and women
            stand by and do nothing.

I’m hopeful that over time things will change but I guess the challenge for Muslims is to somehow increase the ratio of the informed to the misinformed. Since ultimately this is about a lack of understanding. How do we do this though? When the mass media spends so much of its time demonising Islam, rather than explaining that the warped views of a minority are not shared by the vast majority of Muslims.