These last few years, I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what community is. What it looks like. What it feels like. What defines it. Most importantly, what does it take to create it?
With the major controversies that have ensued with the Trump Administration taking on America, the weaknesses and failures of the American “community” have been put in the spotlight in a disturbing yet enlightening way. So, I’m here to piggyback off of that by disclosing serious hang-ups that keep America from establishing a strong and solid community; religion, criminals and, “outsiders.”
Followers Of Other Religions
The trouble with being Christian, Atheist, Muslim, Jewish, Wiccan, or <insert spiritual/religious identity here> is that we will naturally look to support our ideas and beliefs. We do this through the people we associate with, the things we read, the discussions we have, and everything we choose to expose ourselves to. Unfortunately, this means we are choosing to avoid people, readings, discussions, and experiences that challenge our spiritual beliefs. So, we live in a world in which we see non-believers of our religion or belief system as being wrong, stupid, foolish, and unworthy, and we believe they all need to be converted to our religion, which somehow is right while every other spiritual modality with thousands of years of history and millions or billions of followers is “wrong.” This is really unfortunate because when you look at the religious groups of the worlds, you find powerful teachings that are universal. And at their core, you see where these different ideologies are actually one in the same.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit, you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:15-20
What do a bad tree and bad fruit look like? We may consider a Muslim a bad tree, or call the Quran bad fruit, but that’s missing the entire point of this Bible verse. The Bible speaks of wrongful deeds like judging others and committing murder. It also professes the importance of doing right unto others by following the golden rule. Nowhere does it state that you shouldn’t judge others unless they’re Muslim or Buddhist. There isn’t a spot that says it’s okay to kill others if they’re from another country or call their God by another name. These acts are the bad fruit of bad trees. When we commit an act that deviates from the principles we believe in — no matter the person or the situation — we are in defiance of our own beliefs. As it says, “by their fruit you will recognize them.” It is not our religious affiliation but our actions which defines us as a good tree or a bad tree.
The need for kindness and good deeds is seen in the Quran as much as the Bible.
And worship Allah and associate naught with Him, and show kindness to parents, and to kindred, and orphans, and the needy, and to the neighbor that is a kinsman and the neighbor that is a stranger, and the companion by your side, and the wayfarer, and those whom your right hands possess. Surely, Allah loves not the proud and the boastful. (Al Quran 4:37)
This verse from doesn’t speak of showing kindness only to those who are deemed worthy. It implies that all people are worthy. And you don’t have to be Muslim to recognize that anyone who puts themselves and their religion above others is being proud and boastful. If you read the Bible, then you know that Christianity stresses the harm of boasting and being prideful.
This isn’t the only commonality among religious ideologies. Pick up a holy book, and you will find verse upon verse that stresses the importance of kindness, generosity, and forgiveness. These are the principles that spiritual groups pledge to live their lives by. If we can make an exception to judge or condemn someone who is outside our religion, then we can justify doing it to someone from another sect, or another country, or someone of another color. Either we believe in the principles that draw us to our beliefs, or we don’t. If we aren’t a living example of these principles, then we are missing the point of our own beliefs.
Inmates and Criminals
Society has this idea that there are “bad” and “evil” people in this world. People, like prisoners, who apparently are just born bad and can’t be trusted. People who should be avoided. And so, we passively outcast them. But the public’s fear of prisoners is grossly misplaced.
Prisoners are not inherently evil or looking to hurt people for the sole sake of causing harm. They are people who grew up with poor role models and painful experiences. They are sons and daughters whose lives were a series of desperate situations and equally desperate actions. They are mothers and fathers who have known more about pain and suffering, then support, compassion, and understanding. They are just as human as we are.
It’s true that there are inmates eager to get back to jail. But where else do you have to go when your record makes it impossible to get a job or rent an apartment? Society blatantly tells you it doesn’t want you. And this is so sad. Prisoners are already victims of ignored needs and lost opportunities from their childhood. They’re not going to suddenly become outstanding citizens because they’re receiving even fewer opportunities, less understanding, and less support.
Programs like New York’s Children Rising prove this by giving young offenders therapy for the youth and their entire family. This program has over 90% of kids avoiding jail time and criminal records by giving “future criminals” the help and support they need so they can stop the cycle. As it turns out, judging people doesn’t accomplish what understanding people can.
The “Different” Ones
America is all about being independent individuals who take care of themselves. We see this ideology when political groups argue over welfare. We see it when our family argues about refugees. We see it when the wealthy talk about how money is waiting to be made and poor people are just too lazy to do it. We see it when co-workers ostracize fellow employees who don’t think or act the way they do. We see it when our friends gossip about people outside their social circle. And we certainly see it when feminists are bashing men for being male, and men are griping about women being “too needy” and “too emotional.”
Now, it’s extraordinarily helpful to be able to assess people and situations. By getting a feel for things, evaluating actions and behaviours, and determining someone’s character, we can forecast pros and cons and determine where our time and energy is best spent. That definitely comes with advantages. However, there is a fine line between making assessments and making blanket judgments.
The trouble with this is that judgments shape our reality. Not the reality that actually is reality, but the reality that we create for ourselves. When we make misinformed judgements off assumptions, we create negativity at work, at home, at the store, and in ourselves. If I’m stuck on thinking men are heartless, lazy, women-abusing pigs, then I will view each and every male through this lens. Even when they’re compassionate, giving, and respecting-the-heck outta women, I’ll find something that supports the idea that they’re misogynistic pigs. This is harmful to the men I interact with, but above all, it’s harmful to me and my life potential.
When we make assumptions, judgments, and divide ourselves from others, we’re claiming to be superior. I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’m in any position to determine if I’m “better” than somebody. As awesome as I might be, there’s no way I’m going to create a bio that lays out all the nitty-gritty, secret, embarrassing details of my life. I don’t want to be judged for the experiences I’ve been through. If we don’t want to be judged for who we are and the life we’ve lived, then we shouldn’t be doing that to others. That is the Golden Rule.
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