A recent exchange on Facebook began with something like this: “Are racists and xenophobes mentally ill? No, they are ‘sick people’ who are spiritually ill. They have lost their connection to the community, to hope and to love.”
That’s not an exact quote but it gets to the gist. When I asked how ‘spiritually ill’ was defined, there wasn’t a definition but I was asked to contribute to that and how keep each other ‘spiritually well’ and how do we deal with people who are spiritually unwell. Without doing either, I mentioned I happen to know a bunch of racists and xenophobes who are well connected to their community, have hopes for their children and selves and families just like everyone else and certainly love.
This here is how racism, xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and other cliquish ‘isms’, ideas and behaviors begin. The moment anyone separates another person or group of people as ‘not enough like me to keep me comfortable so therefore I must define them as unlike me as I can’ is the beginning of being exactly that which you are judging.
It’s that attitude that has decimated communities across the globe in the name of religion, racism, capitalism, and destiny. Because brown people aren’t people; because Jewish, Muslim, Christian people aren’t enough of whatever we say they need to be more like us so we can take what we want from them.
My Facebook response:
“Why not just love them how they are, how they show up in the world? Why call them ‘ill’ at all because their experiences have brought them to a different way of understanding the world and their relationship with the things of the world? Isn’t the ‘medicine’ to the ‘illness’, the healing, in loving them, those we call ‘other’? If their behavior or definitions or identity is that of separation aren’t we doing the same thing by labeling and judging in this way?”
Because when we do, yes, we are. Prettying up the notion of hate or separation and devaluation by race, class, political ideologies, country of origin, opinions and choices, and illness by calling it anything associated with ‘spiritual’ is what begat Crusades, genocides, abusive gurus, and, perpetuates slavery and the violence we see today.
We can’t change that by echoing it.
Love. Want to help? Find ways to connect with people who are not like you. Take a class on non-violent communication. Introduce your kids to kids in other communities. Invite your neighbor to dinner. Be kind. Read books by people who are not like you–without arguing about what you’re reading. Mentor a kid. Volunteer with a local NGO. Help a family. Drive someone to run an errand. Join discussion and reading groups. There are spaces and people in every community doing good works. Join them. Or start your own but don’t start with the notion you have to heal anyone who views life differently than you.