Embracing humanity Means Embracing Our Differences
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Politics and Activism

Embracing Humanity Means Embracing Our Differences

Whether We Like It Or Not, We 'Other' People

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Embracing Humanity Means Embracing Our Differences

I am sitting in the front row of a crimson Hop On Hop Off bus with clunky headphones periodically releasing new facts about the city of Zagreb. Although I visit Europe pretty much yearly to visit my family in Northwest Europe, this was my first time in Croatia, my second time in the South of Europe.

The audio guide instructs us to look out the right window, where a mossy dome marks the entrance of the Mirogoj Cemetery in the Upper Town. I notice Jesus is carved into the facade on a throne, with two angels serving him at each side. The guide doesn't speak about this. The guide, actually, doesn't mention any of the Christian inspired sculptures, art, or carvings on the whole tour. Each time we had driven by a church thus far, the description sounded, "This is where so and so was murdered horribly," or, "This is where so and so were falsely accused."

Although the cemetery is technically attached to a Christian Church, I learn that it's not an odd case to see Muslim or Jewish graves in this cemetery, adorned with symbols from their heritage. I can't help but reflect on how my own culture, an American one, would respond to Muslim graves in a Christian cemetery.

Later we pass by a museum that apparently the locals warmly refer to as 'The Mosque,' since this is what it was used for a century ago. The guide talks about it so freely, proudly even. Again, I can't imagine an America that would proudly speak of a Mosque in this way, without shame or fluff or any other weirdness.

Attitudes toward 'other' people groups are nothing new, I'm sure you know that. In fact, this 'othering' habit is core to our ideas of identity. If I am me, then by definition, I cannot be you.

But what happens when I begin to believe that all people who share a certain characteristic as me, such as my race or gender, are somehow the same as me? Slowly, it's inevitable that I'll begin to see this group as being 'better' than other groups that do not share these traits with me.

As this world globalized, the levels of uncertainty grow as well — a sort of global identity crisis. Where before the divisions existed amongst, perhaps, the amount of money you had, whether you were slightly less or more of a sinner, this denomination of Christianity or that one, or perhaps your sex, we now have to understand blended identities and identities completely foreign to our own.

How does one view themselves in relation to a multi-racial individual? Tri-racial? One that doesn't believe in a singular God, but rather a force? Someone who doesn't identify with one gender, or goes through reassignment? Often, the answer is to push them to be boundaries of society and subjugate them.

The way my home country speaks of Islam, and those who practice it, disgusts me. The things said about them isolated from fact, void of understanding, and enriched with anger and hatred feels completely wrong. This is a prime example of the fierce 'othering' that can exist when two different systems of belief and cultural practice meet face to face in a foreign land.

I struggle, however, to find solutions to this harmful othering practice, when I find myself, too, othering those who other. As I wrote earlier, simply by being myself and believing myself to have some sort of identity, I 'other'. If we were all to open dialogue and tried understanding one another and spreading love and all the other teachings Jesus Christ taught, for example, are we really to believe we can resist the magnetic desire for a foe — someone beneath us? Does that desire for a foe drive our human experience?

Ultimately, this dichotomy is reflective of the division between good and evil ingrained in our way of thinking. Where there is something that is 'correct' or 'good' to us, there too, has to be a tangible example of what is 'incorrect' or 'bad.' Our egos drive us to 'fix' the 'issue' in some way, which often ends up making things worse. We hurt people in the name of love. We hate in the name of God. The 'evil' one is converted to 'goodness" by all means necessary. The other tries to do the same thing in reverse to you. Mutual othering.

In this cemetery in Zagreb, Croatia they seem to have confronted a cornerstone issue on religious division. Whether it be for historic reasons or modern dialogue (I hope both), I am glad I am able to appreciate a culture that can rest a Muslim, Jew, and Christian in the same bed.

The Mirogoj Cemetery could have easily requested no symbols of other faiths on their graves. In fact, the cemetery could have arranged itself in a pattern, using the same tombstones, fonts, and sizes. But Mirogoj does not pretend these differing identities don't exist. They embrace these differences and use the known human tendency to other as an illustration of unity rather than division. Many faiths, one resting place for them all. Many souls, one humanity.

Although Croatia surely has its own othering issues and stories I can't know about being there for only five days, there is something profound we can take away from this example. Othering is inevitable. In my words here, I have othered my own home, America, American people, Northwestern Europe, and although I did it positively, I also othered Southern Europe and Croatia because I simply can't identify with the way they've approached these issues.

We must learn to acknowledge our differences without tying them to a dichotomy of goodness or evil. Being Black or Hispanic does not make you lazy or uneducated. Being a woman does not make you weak or deserving of subjection. Being a Muslim does not make you evil or a threat. These are parts of ourselves we cannot scrub off, they are key facets of our identities we must learn to celebrate, though, perhaps, they are different from our own.

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