Imagine with me, if you will, a quiet summer day in the mountains of western Colorado. An Iranian Imam, a Southern Baptist minister from Arkansas, a feminist author and activist from Portland, a Chinese businessman, and myself have all decided to go for a walk up the mountain, enjoying the crisp air and glorious landscapes that such a stroll promises to offer.
As we crest the top of a hill, the Chinese businessman starts yelling something about a dragon and waving his arms emphatically at something that he apparently sees off to the left and down the hill a bit. The rest of us, eager to see what the commotion is all about, eagerly rush forward, jostling each other’s shoulders and egos along the way.
The Imam, being right behind the Chinese man, loudly declares that he sees a lion, the lion of the glorious people of Iran and the prophet Mohammed, and instantly prostrates himself on the ground, consecrating the area for himself and those to follow.
The feminist author immediately tells the minister to shut the hell up and calm down, as she too surveys the landscape and immediately cries out, “Oh my God, there’s a child down there! She looks like she’s in trouble, does anyone have a rope or something?!?”
By the time I finally catch up to the rest of the group, the Imam is shaking with rage that the feminist author is telling him that there is no lion there, the Baptist minister is aggressively shoving gospel tracts into the Chinese mans’ pockets, and the feminist is outraged at how no-one sees the potential danger to the little girl below her.
Unfortunately, I don’t help much as I immediately yell at the Baptist to pick up his tracts that he is littering the mountainside with and don’t see anything exciting on the hill below us.
It’s not clear who threw the first punch, but within seconds we are a violent, throbbing mass of violently shameful humanity, each of us determined to prove what we saw on the hill at the point of fists and elbows.
After several minutes of fighting and cursing have taken place, I pull myself out of the wreckage of flesh and dirt and cry with all my heart, “STOP!!” The violence settles as I continue my plea “Why are we doing this?!? Why are we attacking each other? What do we have to prove?”
As my companions slowly untangle themselves from each other and assess the damages wrought upon themselves each other, I slump slowly to the ground, put my head in my hands, and cry.
Why do I cry? Because I have yet again experienced and participated one of the oldest and most shameful traditions of my species – Attacking that which is different instead of seeking to understand or learn from it.
I might take some consolation in the fact that I am in great company, given the current state of world affairs. Today, as I write this, over six million people are displaced around the world due to religious, ethnic, and political violence. Six million individuals who have had their land, homes, family, and basic human rights taken from them due to this action that I just engaged in.
What if instead of attacking those who disagreed with us, we learned from them? What if me and my weird cadre of friends had sat down on that hillside and shared our experiences and perspectives, and sought to understand each other? What if we focused on the things that we had in common and combined our experiences to find what was beautiful and true in what we had witnessed?
Maybe, just maybe if we had done that, we might have discovered that based on our various positions along the path, we were actually seeing different pieces of the puzzle of what actually happened on the hillside that afternoon. And if, if we could do that, we might discover that smiling up at us from that lush field of columbines and field asters,
was a majestic golden lion lying down peacefully with a little white lamb, and a little child was leading them….