Recent attempts in the U.S. to limit what it means to be an American and exclude those who don’t measure up sadden, frighten and disturb me. When will it stop? Will you make the cut? I’m not sure I will. The example being set by our President that it is okay to bully, belittle, mimic, degrade, name call or even possibly physically attack people who are different is being readily accepted and adopted by some Americans, including Christians.
But what would happen to our country if these attempts at exclusion should be successful? Would our country really be better or would we lose our greatest strengths?
Let’s look at what “outsiders” have taught and continue to teach us about community.
- We are stronger together. Community is often created by outsider groups as a means of survival. It is not unusual to see people who live with disabilities, poverty, discrimination, or other negative labels help others join together in community. Sometimes these groups fight for their basic human rights. It might be easy to ignore one individual, but larger groups grab our attention. We can accomplish more as group than we can on our own.
- Burdens shared are burdens lightened. It is not unusual for members of outsider groups to help each other out. Many times when no one else will. This might be by sharing food, information, prayer, physical work, or sometimes money. Many years ago I was part of a small informal group of graduate students who would pool our meager resources and prepare and eat dinner together. We not only ate better we enjoyed each other’s company.
- Communities hold each other together during times of tragedy. When we see people coming together to help and support each other in the aftermath of tragedy, whether the death of a friend or loved one, a natural disaster or the latest mass shooting, we see community at it’s finest. The largest funeral I ever attended was that of a young woman who after years of being labeled mentally ill took her own life. People who did not even know her personally attended to support and encourage each other. Those labeled mentally ill recognize the fragility of life and reality and the need for others to accompany us on our journey.
- We have much to learn from the customs and traditions of other cultures. Americans have seen throughout the history of our nation that immigrants and even those brought to this country in shackles and sold as property have helped build our country with their blood, sweat and tears. The work ethic of immigrants has sometimes put us to shame. But instead of learning from this, how many times have we judged, accused or reacted out of fear? We have also learned and adopted/adapted the culinary traditions of other cultures. Can you think of one uniquely American food?
- Different is not a dirty word. The bullies of this world win only if we believe what they say and that we deserve the way they treat us.
- Perseverance pays off. Members of “outsider” groups have so much to teach us about perseverance. Parents of children with disabilities dedicate their time, money, love and effort to helping their children grow and have the best life possible. Their children persevere in learning to do things differently than other people. Adults with disabilities worked for the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act and still fight for their right to work, live and contribute to our society. Civil Rights workers in the 1960’s persevered in their efforts to create a world that works for all Despite setbacks groups like Black Lives Matter and others continue the work.. Generations of immigrants have come to this country and persevered in the often difficult struggle to create a better life and helped create a better country along the way. Even people the world may consider outsiders because they think in different ways sometimes come together to create new technology, save lives, explore space and send man to the Moon and beyond.
Unfortunately, as with most things that can be a force for good, community can also be used to exclude and keep others out. That is why it is so important to learn from the mistakes we have made along the way as well as listen to and learn from those those whose cultural traditions and perseverance have offer much needed lessons to teach us.