brad hales

In today’s divisive and polarized world, is it possible to gain learning and understanding from others?

As a young college student, I was enrolled in a class entitled “Introduction to Religion.” I seemed to know what was going on in the course, so the instructor pulled me aside one day, and asked if I would be willing to tutor classmates who were having a hard time comprehending. I agreed to help and he told me that these guys were international students from Thailand. Thailand? I had never ventured out of the country. I knew no language except English, and my knowledge of cultural diversity was sorely lacking. But I proceeded with the challenge, as it was one of the greatest opportunities of my life.

The more time I spent with these guys, I learned. I learned about their culture. I learned about their religion. I learned that they had goals and dreams. I learned that I liked Thai food as they cooked for me. I realized that, even though people are quite different, it’s still possible to learn from each other and develop healthy relationships. But why is this not always the norm in the world we’re presently inhabiting?

It seems that we’re focusing on the things that divide rather than what bring us together. Please, do not get me wrong. Individually, we do have a right to our opinions, political beliefs, and ways of living without question. But are we willing to sacrifice potential relationships with our neighbors because of our steadfast way of thought or refusal to even inquire about another’s experience? I am afraid that in stalemate, we all lose.

When I was in elementary school, the going thing was marbles. Whether they were glass or created out of metal (steelies), we would ferociously engage each other on the playground trying to strike the other’s goods, and then taking the spoils of victory. This was all well and good until there was a dispute in one of the games. As tempers flared, the teachers decided to take everyone’s marbles so there were no winners in the end. This is my great concern if we fail to find commonalities.

So, why division? Is it born out of fear? Is it born out of anger? Is it born out of perception? Is it born out of betrayal? Is it born out of untruths? Is it born out of rightness? Is it born out of ignorance? Or is it born out of loyalty? It was brought to the attention of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 1:10-17 that there were divisions inside the Corinthian Church. Different sects were claiming their allegiance to human leaders instead of God himself. Realizing that this was wrong and devastating to the unity of the congregation, Paul appeals to the people to be united in Christ alone. That’s why he writes in other scripture, “There is no difference between Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male or female. We are all one in Christ.”

Clearly, we are called to love our neighbors and our enemies. Differences should never keep us apart. Behind my childhood home sat an older Victorian house that was inhabited by The Ramsey’s. As I joyfully played with children from this family, my mom and the Ramsey’s mother, Elizabeth, seemed to hit it off. What was so amazing is that they hailed from vastly different backgrounds. While my mother grew up on a farm never living 30-plus miles away from her birthplace, Liz was British and hailed from London. Her father was the personal physician to the Royal Family.

While my mom and Mrs. Ramsey had completely diverse families, experiences, and governmental beliefs, they remain close friends today through their 80-plus years of living.

Is it possible to forge relationships with others who differ in thought and opinion? Absolutely, if we’re willing to listen, engage, and not hold onto preconceived notions. Again, I am not saying that we negate core beliefs. But I am saying wouldn’t it be nice for once to seek the “common threads” which bring humanity together, rather than “knit picking” the things that divide?

Is it possible?

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