Facing the Fear

Ahead of the United Nations’ International Day for Tolerance on November 16th, we’re taking a moment to reflect on the events of last night and give you the tools to practice tolerance and acceptance in your everyday life.

I didn’t sleep. Lying in my bed for what seemed an innumerable amount of hours (according to my clock, nine – to be exact), I scrolled and scanned post after post to make sense of the confusion, anger, and loss from last night. Many of my friends on social media had expressed a kind of anguish for the attacks in both Paris and Beirut, and others had expressed a call for action. Some, like me, watched frozen for fear of drawing attention to the wrong thing while many of the facts are still coming to light and the investigation continues.

Jean Jullien“We’re simply not doing enough. The violence must end,” one new friend quipped while captioning an image of the now-famous illustration by artist Jean Jullien.

However, before I could “like” or comment on this posted opinion, the tone became angrier. In a second post, she wrote, “OK, it’s official. Muslims are the root of all evil!! Why aren’t we doing more?”

With the dawning of a new day and the jolting that comes after drinking a fresh cup of coffee, I reflect on seeing this second Facebook post, and I do regret playing the not-so-innocent, silent bystander last night. Yes, members of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known has the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS),  have now come forward as being behind the attacks in Paris and in Beirut, and there have been other high-profile cases of terrorist attacks where the perpetrators have identified as Muslims.

However, Muslims and people who practice the Islamic faith overall have not now – nor have ever been – “the root of all evil”.

I, along with members of the Everyday Ambassador community, remain heartbroken by the recent violence in Paris and Beirut and similar tragedies of terrorism that happen all over the world. I don’t claim to be an expert on terrorism, hatred, or tolerance, but it’s worth asking,

“How do we respond to such senseless acts?”

Too often in history we respond to hate with more hate, we react to ignorance with our own forms of bigotry, intolerance, and perhaps misinformed biases.

In 2005, Harvard Divinity-trained scholar Dr. Reza Aslan wrote the book No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam, which, according to Tweed’s magazine, has “turned him into an intellectual celebrity”. In an interview with the magazine, he’s been quoted as saying:

…those whose minds are most in need of changing are precisely the ones that aren’t going to change their minds based on information, because bigotry is not a result of ignorance, as much as we like to think it is. Bigotry is a result of fear, and fear is impervious to data. You can be told repeatedly that there isn’t a monster under your bed, you could look down there fifty times, and it’s not going to change how you feel, or how scared you are of it.

While deep-rooted “fear” is “impervious to data” and information itself won’t necessarily change the way some people think, relationships and more deeply connecting with others of different viewpoints can. When we are able to understand others’ perspectives or befriend the people who identify with the sources of our fears, there’s a greater chance that at least some of that bigotry could fall away as our assumptions are challenged. Today, officials continue to investigate the full series of events in Paris and Beirut, and we are offered an opportunity this weekend to conscientiously practice human connection and examine our own internal biases – especially in this time of confusion and high Islamophobia.

And it’s not easy. Taking a hard look of how we view the world is not exactly a high-priority on our weekend agendas. Ahead of the United Nations’ International Day for Tolerance on November 16th, I’ve identified some ways we, as individuals and as a community, can flex that human connection muscle and move away from a culture of divisiveness and one towards tolerance, acceptance, and humility.

  1. If you are someone who does respond to information, read the latest updates from different news sources (not just one) to get a clear picture of the situation, and think before you post. Ask yourself, “Is what I’m writing something that is important for people to know? Is this post self-serving? Am I writing something that is backed by fact or is based on my own opinion?” Also challenge yourself to offer small, positive solutions to the difficulties that people are facing if you are in or near one of these two cities. Our upcoming “Field Notes” column on Monday will be featuring many of these solutions and ways people have come together in light of these tragedies.
  2. Talk with a friend about how you’re feeling if these events have affected you in any way (emotionally, mentally, or physically), and unpack whatever it is you’re going through in a safe space. If you’re someone who needs to be alone, you can grieve, reflect, or express yourself in a private way, and reach out to a friend whenever you are ready. Know that, for whatever emotion or situation you are experiencing, you are not alone. In either of these cases, expressing your emotions is an incredibly powerful exercise and moving through these emotions to positive actions even more so. If you’re a friend on the other side of this interaction, ask first what your friend needs and act accordingly. Do they need someone to simply listen, to hold them while they express themselves, to offer insight, or to help them move through their feelings in a positive way? Be aware of your friend’s needs, and always actively listen.
  3. From these conversations, see if you can examine some of your own fears and “blind spots”. Even people of the best of intentions can still hold incorrect assumptions on topics they know very little about. (Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m still guilty of many of these “blind spots”, and this is still something I’m learning to work through.) The media and social media sometimes give a “sample bias” and only provide us with a snapshot of the whole truth. Ask yourself, “What angers me about this situation? What offends me? What makes me upset? What do I want to know more about?” Using this energy, see if you can better inform yourself on that topic, and get a variety of perspectives to get closer to the whole truth. Alternatively, consider reaching out to someone who might know more or have a different point of view. It’s always better to ask questions than assume.
  4. Learn how you can incorporate more conversations on tolerance and acceptance in your everyday life, workplace, or classroom. Look through The Southern Poverty Law Center’s many resources on Teaching Tolerance – from publications to film kits to classroom resources to webinars. Pick a book on an issue that you’d like to know more about for your next book club, and talk about not only the plot but also how you’re feeling while reading it. Host a workshop or watch a webinar from Six Seconds on their Talents for Tolerance initiative, on ways you can use your unique strengths for tolerance.

“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador Brand Strategist Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

Image Credit: Jean Jullien/Kimberly Li



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