You see it on the news everyday and listen to it on your car radio as you drive home from work: “Officer shot African American man,” “Hundreds dead in terrorist attack,” “Homosexual teen commits suicide due to bullying.” The headlines go on, and they seem to be at an all­ time high lately. Slavery has been illegal for over 150 years, and yet racism and prejudice are still palpable in this “great” nation. Same sex marriage was legalized just over a year ago, and there are still priests and parishioners who refuse to marry off happy couples. But why? Why is it that as the decades pass us by, our society doesn’t seem to be improving?

We’re all to blame. Each and every one of us is guilty. As a whole, most of us don’t think of others; we think of ourselves first. Mentally, we can’t even put ourselves in other’s shoes. Some of us may try, but many of us don’t even want to bother because it’s so embedded in our heads that we have to think of ourselves first. Now, some of you may be thinking: “Well, of course I come first. I need to look out for myself first and then I can think of others.” Sure, I’m not saying that you always have to think of everyone else before you, but you shouldn’t always think of yourself first. You should be important to yourself, but not so important that you’re blinded by your selfishness.

Not only are many of us selfish, many of us are greedy as well. But aren’t greed and selfishness the same thing? No. Selfishness is being mainly interested in oneself and not caring about other people while greed is a thirst for more than you actually need, such as desiring more power or wanting more food than you need to eat. Many Americans have portrayed politicians as being greedy, thirsty scumbags who use other nations for their natural resources. I’m not saying that they are wrong, but aren’t we all a little greedy? Don’t we all want a little more money, a little more food, a little more love, a little more power?

Greed isn’t always a bad thing, that is, until it becomes an obsession. When you become so greedy that you use others to your advantage, you are destroying your way of life and those around you. Greed in moderation isn’t a bad thing; a student should want to turn their B­ to an A+, a worker should be motivated to work hard and get a raise. But be warned: too much greed can turn a warm heart cold and a pure soul black.

We need to have a new understanding of ourselves and others. We need to want to help others, not hurt them. We need to change the way our minds work. We are the key to world peace, and it’s about time that we change the locks.

In order to change the path of society, we must re­evaluate ourselves. We must replace all of our negative traits: all of our greed, our selfishness, our lust, our envy, our arrogance, our impatience, our stubbornness, our clinginess, our possessiveness, and our laziness with positive traits. We should be independent, we should be generous, we should be optimistic, we should be courageous, we should be dependable, we should be loyal. We should be imaginative, we should be caring, we should be responsible, we should be adaptable, we should be clever. We should be confident, we should be ambitious, we should be reliable, we should be observant, we should be encouraging, we should be accepting, we should be compassionate, and we should be devoted. But it takes more than just saying we will be all this, we must act. Words are just words, but actions speak louder than words. Words are useless unless they are backed by action.

At this point, you may be thinking to yourself: “How can changing my lifestyle possibly affect the world so much?” Well, believe it or not, you’re not small. Every individual has the power in themselves to promote change and make the world a better place. It’s a great task, but if we all work together, it won’t be so strenuous.

Now, changing our lifestyle is only part of the key to world peace. The other half is understanding each other. Walk in someone else’s shoes so to say. I have observed the world through my young eyes, and I’m convinced that if we all had a better understanding of each other, there would be no violence, no crime, no fights, no arguments. There would be peace.

I understand that we are all entitled to our own opinions, but if we could just walk around in someone else’s shoes for just one day, we’d have a whole new understanding of that person. Growing up, I was always taught to not talk to strangers, especially the homeless because they were “bad people.” But my family didn’t know the homeless, they just assumed they were bad. How did they become homeless? Why didn’t they have family or friends to turn to? What was their backstory? All I was ever told was that they were crazy or on drugs. But no one is just born crazy. The world makes you crazy. And no one is born addicted to drugs, something catastrophic happens in your life that makes you turn to drugs because you believe you have nothing left to turn to and they make you feel good for the time being.

During middle school, I watched as my classmates mocked and taunted my best friend because she reeked of cigarette smoke. They even started rumors that she was smoking and sold drugs to help support her poor family. I knew the rumors weren’t true; she definitely knew they weren’t true. But to the new students that were hearing the rumors, she was bad news. See, my classmates never knew my best friend’s backstory.

They didn’t know her like I knew her. They didn’t know that her father raised her as a single parent. They didn’t know that her father chain smoked and that was the reason she always smelled like cigarettes. They didn’t know her water was turned off because her father couldn’t afford the water bill. They didn’t know her house was being foreclosed on. They didn’t care. They just wanted to outcast her because she was different.

In high school, things didn’t change much. In fact, they got worse. Even I became like my middle school classmates, and I recall starting rumors with my friends about a girl, solely because she wore bright purple leggings with knee ­high light brown boots. Towards the end of my high school career, I befriended her and it was then that I realized what a terrible mistake I had made. This girl may not have had good fashion sense, but she had an incredible soul and a desire to help others and those were two things I had never discovered in anyone.

We began to have conversations here and there. I found out that her family was lower middle class, and she only had one pair of shoes: those light brown boots. I also found out that she donated to perishes and did community service in her free time, two things that none of my friends ever even thought of doing. This girl, whom I had mocked with my friends for a year, was nothing like I had imagined she was nothing. She was beautiful on the inside and out. I was the one who was ugly.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I believed I was in love. No one had ever made me so happy the way this guy had and not only was he my boyfriend, but he was also my best friend. However, my family despised him because he was poor. They would often tell me throughout our short ­lived relationship that it was like mixing clean water with dirty water. However, they didn’t know him or his family or his upbringing. They just knew what they thought of him. They didn’t know that him, his parents, and five other siblings lived in a tiny trailer together. They didn’t know that his parents were emotional (and possibly physically) abusive. They didn’t know that he got a job at 16 to support his family. They, just like my middle school classmates, didn’t care. They cared about me, and the fact that I “subjected myself to filth like that” caused many arguments between me and my parents.

However, things began to change within my first year of college. I met so many wonderful people from all walks of life, and I really learned to walk in someone else’s shoes. The world is not just black and white, and to sit there and believe that it is will only cause more damage to society. There is no good vs. evil, there is no enemy and ally. Villains aren’t bad for no reason. They have a backstory, too. Every single individual around you has their own story. Learn to get to know the people around you and you will see that they aren’t bad. You will learn things about them you never imagined learning before. You just have to listen.

Another part of understanding people is understanding their beliefs. I was raised in a Roman Catholic household, and that’s okay. One of my friends during high school was raised in a Muslim household, and that’s okay too. Religion has started many wars from the dawn of time, and it’s time to end them. You see, what you believe in shouldn’t have such power that it defines who you are and causes you to murder the innocent. I do believe that religion should have a strong influence, but not so strong that you commit murder.

In fact, since I’ve studied both the Bible and the Qur’an, I know what I’m saying when I say that Christianity and Islam are not very different from each other. So, in that case, Christians should not hate Muslims because ultimately they’re following the same religion. Both religions teach love and peace. Both religions are taught to follow the teachings of Jesus or Muhammad. Both religions have similar holidays that take place at different times. Both religions have similar parables. Just because one religion calls their god God and the other religion calls their god Allah, does not mean they’re different. The words are different, but not the teachings.

Another major aspect of understanding each other is our “race.” Just because someone has darker skin than you doesn’t mean that they’re less superior, just like how if someone has lighter skin than you that doesn’t mean they’re superior to you. We all bleed the same blood so why on Earth does skin color determine the importance of an individual? In fact, it doesn’t. The same aspect applies to nationalities. Italians are not better than Russians and they’re not better than the Japanese and the Japanese are not better than the Australians who are not better than the Africans who are not better than the Brazilians who are not better than the Americans; we are all EQUAL.

Speaking of equality, what about sexualities? Why is it that homosexuality has been looked down upon for so many years? Why is it even considered a sin according to the Bible? Why did it take so many decades for same­sex marriage to finally be legalized? Homosexuality isn’t something to be ashamed of despite the propaganda and despite the lectures that a Christian priest might preach to you. In fact, I knew of a devout Christian woman who walked up to a gay teen and told him he’s going to hell if he doesn’t change his ways.

She actually made him cry in public. To me, that’s disgusting. Of course, I’m not going to judge that woman or that gay teen, but I believe that the act of bullying someone for who they are is disgusting. We are all entitled to live our lives the way that we choose to and we have the freedom to be who we are. A person can love another person of the same sex and a person can love another person of the opposite sex. It doesn’t matter who you love, what matters is that you love. In fact, love is love, regardless of gender or sexuality.

How on Earth do we expect to have peace in the world if we are bringing each other down? WE have to make the world a better place to live in, for all of us, not just ourselves. So whether you’re black or white, whether you are Italian or Chinese, whether you are gay or straight, whether you are Christian or Muslim, love each other, respect others, and learn to understand each other instead of fighting one another. We all come from every walk of life and we should be free to live in peace, love, and harmony. Please understand that you don’t know what another person is going through, and because of that, you should respect everyone and try to help all in anyway you can. Instead of being on the defense all the time, learn to love, learn to understand, learn to live in peace. Thank you.