It is hard these days not to despair about the state of the world and harder still to avoid the consternation I feel as a White American. For years now, I’ve sat in front of my television in my comfortable living room and watched families fleeing their own countries. I’ve seen doctors, lawyers, school teachers, engineers, artists, and computer programmers with no supplies except what they can carry on their backs trying to calm their children as they cross ocean waters in rubber boats and contemplate a bleak, unknown future.
I’ve seen the make-shift refugee camps where some people have lived now for years. I’ve seen the anxiety on the faces of national leaders who warn that their resources and ability to accommodate these refugees are stretched to their limit. And now I grapple with my country’s decision to close its borders to so many who need a home.
We’ve all seen the backlash —the nationalism and even tribalism that have resulted from rapid cultural migration, a rapidly changing global economy, and rising terrorism. At a time when the world needs to come together to solve complex international problems, alliances are crumbling and the United States is mistrusted by many of its oldest international friends and partners. Within the United States, rural folks are pitted against city folks, and Republicans and Democrats no longer speak to each other. Throughout the world, white supremacist groups have come out of the closet into mainstream culture, and 800,000 young people who know no other home besides the United States now face the very real threat of deportation.
Yet on good days I also see much that gives me hope. I see caring, egalitarian young people becoming more politically involved than they have been in the past. I see donations increasing to humanitarian organizations. I see inter-faith activities bringing Christians and Muslims together. It’s been a hard year, and there’s no question we are deeply divided about immigration and national security issues, which are admittedly difficult and complex. But I still believe that many of us want world travel to be accessible to as many people as possible. Many of us feel enriched by cultures and world views different from our own. And many of us still believe that all human lives matter.
What Can I Do?
I want to avoid despair, to choose love over fear, and to enjoy the rich variety of cultures throughout the world. Specifically, I want to be a part of the effort to promote not only multi-cultural understanding, good will, and peaceful co-existence, but also true cross-cultural friendships and collaboration. And though my efforts will most likely result in some political discussions, I do not believe that political discussions are the best way to begin.
Political viewpoints are by necessity based on generalizations, and our generalizations don’t seem to be working for us these days. They are too often hasty, uninformed, and reductive. Before we can make any meaningful or useful generalizations about groups of people, we mush first recognize every group as a mix of unique, complex individuals who are so much more significant and complicated than the categories in which we place them. And paradoxically, it is when we begin to see each other’s individuality and uniqueness that we often discover our common humanity.
I believe a better way to begin forming relationships is to become acquainted with each other’s individual life stories—the stories behind our political views. Even people who have grown up with us or lived in the same house with us often don’t really understand us until we narrate our own perceptions of our shared lives. How important it is, then, to know the stories of people who live on the other side of the tracks—or the other side of the planet—from us.
Knowing each other’s stories might prevent us from annihilating each other. Knowing each other’s stories might help us to like each other, despite our political and cultural differences. Knowing each other’s stories might in fact turn some of us into real friends. And through the internet, knowing is easily accessible for those who desire it.
Let’s Tell Our Stories!
I have created this “blog” in hopes that it will facilitate more in-depth conversation and sharing than people are prepared to spend on social media like Facebook. I put quotation marks around the word “blog” because I hope readers will come to think of this site as something different from most blogs. It is “my” blog in that I will introduce our discussion topics, but I hope to read others’ stories as much as to share my own. With each post I hope to start a conversation which will continue even without my involvement.
If you are already telling your stories on your own blog, I hope you will share links to your posts as they relate to the topics I introduce. If you have read articles or books or seen documentaries about my blog subjects, again I hope you will share access to this information.
We Can Make A Difference! … And We Can Make Friends
So many important benefits can come from cross-cultural friendships. I envision significant world-wide efforts to reduce global income inequality, promote universal human rights, and avoid environmental and nuclear holocaust. But at the risk of sounding too needy, I have to disclose up front that my primary motivation is much more personal.
I am a product of parents who not only come from different cultures and countries, but who both left behind their cultures in their adulthood. Because of their cultural displacement, I have felt for most of my life like a woman without a country. These days I feel grateful for my lack of complete cultural assimilation because it has brought me freedom, unique relationships, and new paradigms I would not trade for any amount of cultural belonging. There’s something lost but so much to be gained in feeling homeless for a while. But everyone eventually needs a home to go to. I am no exception, and I know there are other misfits like me, searching for a home.
I strongly believe we should all be seeking opportunities to connect in person, face to face, with our neighbors, even–especially?–the ones we don’t like, but I also believe we can be buoyed up in those sometimes difficult efforts by a community of friends who share our most important goals and values. I sincerely hope that at least some of us misfits can find a virtual home with each other and that our vulnerability will not make us the target of too much discouraging animosity.
We’re Not Alone
After creating the name for this blog, I did a google search and discovered I was not the first to come up with the name Friends without Borders. Nor was I the first to think of story-telling as a means of bridging cultural divides. The website friendswithoutborders.org was established by an organization helping children in India write letters to children in Pakistan; and now a sister website, friendswithoutborders.net, is being created to spread the letter-writing effort wordwide. But so far I know of no place where adults can share their stories on-line within an international community.
Besides meeting people of many nations, I hope that together we can consider cultural variations within countries and between sub-cultures. The United States is especially a country of many cultures. The Utah I grew up in is vastly different from the North Dakota my husband calls home. Despite many obvious similarities, the community of my youth–in the foothills of Provo, Utah and in the shadow of Brigham Young University–is very different from the small town of Salem, Utah where I now live. The challenge and unique opportunity of this blog will be to communicate those cultural features in ways that are meaningful even to people who live in Arkansas or Bolivia or Iran or Norway.
House Rules (borrowed from friendswithoutborders.net)
I believe this blog will serve a purpose quite different from the other websites I have seen. However, I would like my readers to consider the wonderful “Friendship Promise” posted on the friendswithoutborders.net website. Imagine a world in which we all made these commitments:
I will seek to understand, not just to be understood.
I will treat all people equally, with equal respect, despite differences in age, gender, religion, ethnicity, place of origin, financial status, sexual orientation, or other perceived differences.
When confronted with viewpoints that may be in conflict with my own, I will work to find connections wherever they do exist and build on these.
I will speak the truth in my heart, that comes from my own life experience, and will allow others to do so without argument. [Here I would substitute the word “antagonism” for “argument.” Surely we can disagree without being disagreeable.]
I will make space for others, especially for those who may be slow to speak, new to technology, or speak a language different from mine.
I will treat others as I want to be treated. I will approach all interactions with the very best I have to offer: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, temperance. (http://www.friendswithoutborders.net/)
In my next post on Sunday, October 22, I will tell you about my personal connections to the refugee and immigrant experience. I then hope to hear your thoughts and stories about the topic. So please spread the word. Share a link to this blog with your friends throughout the world who are committed to the goal of multi-cultural understanding and friendship. Check back with me after Sunday, October 22. And then post your thoughts, stories, and links.