After the September 11th attacks I remember hearing from a college friend whose family members were practicing Sikhs. She was relating the painful reality of her brothers suddenly being harassed and threatened in public. Because practicing Sikh men don’t cut their hair or beards and wear a turban as a matter of faith, they are easy to identify in public and become targets for individuals who have fallen victim to pop cultural stereotypes of what a terrorist is “supposed” to look like. The irony was that these men had no cultural, religious, ethnic or language ties to any of those responsible for the September 11th or any other terrorist attacks. At its core, Sikhism is about love and compassion for one’s fellow man.
Of course, an attack on any person because of their belief system is fundamentally wrong. But attacking someone simply because they happen to fit a stereotype that in reality is the farthest thing from who they are somehow feels even worse. I was reminded of that conversation from so many years ago when I recently saw a video of Valarie Kaur’s speech. She speaks of her hope that the current cultural turmoil we’re experiencing might in fact be a sign that we’re about to turn a corner and enter a period of unprecedented enlightenment. What a beautifully simple, hopeful sentiment.
Love is always, always, always the answer. Compassion and understanding are the truest signs of strength. Any coward can find fault in others.
It is my personal belief that all great truths are simple. And the simplest and most important truth that I cling to when the world seems impossible to fix is that people are basically good, and that appealing relentlessly to that goodness in spite of every possible invitation to do otherwise not only brings out the best in each of us, but is factually the only workable solution to the problems we all face, and the only way we actually can turn that corner.
Love is always, always, always the answer. Compassion and understanding are the truest signs of strength. Any coward can find fault in others. It takes true courage to allow them to live their lives on their own terms, whatever those terms may be. True faith, independent of specific tenets, celebrates the best of what it means to be human, and love, compassion and a celebration of the human experience are, for me, what Valarie’s speech was all about.
We need more voices like hers.
Photo: Valarie Kaur