Showing posts with label compassion. Show all posts
Showing posts with label compassion. Show all posts

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Watching Tom Shadyac's movie "I Am"

Official HD Trailer
for Tom Shadyac's documentary
"I Am"

Years ago, Oprah recommended a movie called "I am" by director Tom Shadyac. If Oprah tells me to watch something, I'm going to do so - after all these years, I love her more than ever. I miss her weekday show. It's as if a friend moved away.

 I finally got around to watching the documentary "I am." It was, just as she described, wonderfully uplifting. I recommend it too! The central questions of the film are "What's wrong with the world? What can we do about it?"

Watching it from Turkey, I can't help but see how American the inquiry of ideas is in the film. An American viewpoint celebrates individual achievement above all else. In pursuit of capitalism, world and human resources are to be used in pursuit of the profit of whomever is building a company requiring them. The long-term consequences to the Earth or others isn't ranked as high as the need to continue wealth creation. So this is where Tom Shadyac started out and he shared his travels to a different point-of-view.

The central premise of his new viewpoint (gathered from interviewing some of the most interesting thinkers on the planet) is that we, as humans and species, are all interconnected. In a capitalist society, it's very easy to discount the weak, the elderly, the disabled as non-contributors and to assign them less value. But if they aren't there, what happens to the entire society? Does it continue to exist? 

I reflected afterwards that this idea of non-contributers is so central to American life it even has a number assigned to it: the 47%. It's not a very empathetic point-of-view. People usually spend some time in their life in the 47%, for example, when they are children or an elderly person.

In contrast, I would describe Turkish culture as a hive culture where people assume cooperation with each other in most settings. The capitalist system is an adjustment in the last generation from an older culture of togetherness among people of the same ethnicity. The spirit of competition and zero sum game is a new practice here.

A simple example of how it is expressed is that Western students would hide a bad test score from their peers, but Turkish students share this information openly. Their attitude is geared more toward helping each other rather than competing with each other.

 Another idea from the film is that our emotions have the power to influence events and other living creatures. We under estimate the power of each of our individual acts and how they influence others.

People also live their emotions much more openly here in Turkey and this energy contributes to creating an exciting hum in Istanbul.
I think a Turkish friend watching this movie would say, "Duh. Everyone knows these concepts that we are all interconnected and that our energy and emotions influence the energy of others." Yet, I don't think all Americans do know that, which is why Tom Shadyac's film resonates so much. 

If you judge the systems based on wealth created, the American system is better. Is that the only way to measure individual success? Humanity's success? In the movie, Tom Shadyac gives up this measure for measuring the success of his own life. And he has never felt happier. He adopts more of an indingenous cultures' viewpoint that pursuit of gain beyond one's own immediate needs is considered mental illness.

Watch "I Am" for yourself and ask yourself what your cultural lens taught you growing up. Has it changed as you've aged? If so, why? Do you think that your cultural lens will help or hurt the long-term survival of the species - not only the human species but all other species as well?

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Monday, January 5, 2015

Alina Gallo's Memorializations in Miniature:Berkin Elvan & Gezi Park

Alina Gallo, artist
One of the beautiful things about my PAWI (Professional Women of Istanbul) group is that I meet interesting American expats who are interacting with the region in their own unique way.

This year, I met a young painter who was memorializing key events that have occurred in the Middle East and North Africa through her art. Her name is Alina Gallo. She hails from Long Island, New York. When I met Alina, she was living here in Istanbul, inspired by the events of the region.
Berkin Elvan was
14 years old when he
went out of the house
to fetch bread for his family's dinner.
Struck by a tear gas canister
to the head,
as protests were occurring
in his neighborhood,
Berkin lingered
in a coma for 269 days,
and then died.
In learning about Alina's art, one of the first things that struck me was the humility with which she approached her work. When I first saw her studies for the miniature commemorating the funeral of Berkin Elvan, I was moved to tears. "this is a masterpiece," I told her.

Alina demurred. She thought of herself as one artist in a long line of miniature painters who documented moments of history and cultural importance. She drew attention away from her own contribution. 

"It is through me, not of me. That is the power of the miniature form. It becomes an expression of shared experience and collective consciousness. This is the beauty of creative energy." she said.

Alina's medium is egg tempura, a paint made with egg yolks, ground pigments and water. One of her paint brushes has just three hairs, another has just two. She works with a magnifying glass and illustrator's glasses. 
Berkin Elvan's Funeral March, 2014
Text with painting: What happens if you and your family live near a place in Istanbul where all of the protests are happening? Fourteen-year-old Berkin Elvan, ran to the store for bread as his family was settling down for dinner. Berkin's family were Kurdish Alevis, so minorities both ethically and religiously in Turkey. Berkin was shot squarely in the head with a tear-gas container by an Istanbul policeman. 15-year-old Berkin Elvan's funeral march took place on March 12, 2014. Elvan died after 296 days in a coma after being struck on the head by a government tear gas canister while going out to get bread for his family during the Gezi protests in June 2013. After his death, thousands proceeded with his coffin to the funeral ceremony and cemetery. As a symbolic gesture many bakeries closed that day and citizens tied loaves of bread to doors and windows with black ribbons. As soon as he was buried, mourners and protesters were immediately met with police crack-downs all over the city of Istanbul and in other cities across Turkey. 

Alina's work reminded me of another artist, Walt Whitman, who documented through poetry and prose, youth spent and lost working toward noble visions during the American Civil War.

Back then, Walt Whitman would sit next to the bedside of a young person who gave his all in pursuit of a better future for his nation and was destined to pass on. 

It mattered to Whitman that his reader know the person behind the sacrifice for a noble cause: what the young person cared about, who he was sweet on, how he wanted to be remembered to his mother. 

In humanizing the individuals behind a great movement, it was as if he said to his audience, "take in the magnificence and the ordinariness of this human being. Feel this loss with me."

Berkin Elvan may not have been of the Gezi protests, but he was one of the causalities of casually-used excessive force.

Alina documented the loss of a sweet boy, that many Turks, and others who were watching, felt deeply. Today would have been Berkin Elvan's 16th birthday.
Educated Gezi youth
literally couldn't wait
to contribute
to their country.
Their enthusiasm
was not welcomed.
I was grateful that Alina was in Istanbul to honor the struggles of Gezi Park youth with her attention and work. Like me, she observed the events, but wasn't of the events, She painted it one step removed. I felt like she was capturing what I was watching. The Turks, themselves, they were the ones actually living it.

The Gezi Youth Generation, members of a secular movement to save an urban park in a city where parks are in short supply, brought an idealism and spirituality to their quest that was deeply moving to experience first-hand. There was purity and sweetness and goodness in that park. You could feel it. It was an incredible privilege to visit it. 

The Gezi youth generation is deeply cognizant of all the sacrifices made by the founding generation of Turkish citizens. Their deep awareness of this can only be called reverence. Watching them gather, sing, camp, help each other, celebrate their democratic wishes with a sense of community that is as rare as it was special made me contemplate the sacrifices of the Turkish people at the beginning of their nation. Now the new nation was bearing fruit. Those sacrifices had found artistic, intellectual, and spiritual flowering with this generation ninety years later. 

The new youth movement was expressed with a collective wish, not for more of the new-found prosperity Turkey has achieved, but a desire to save a beloved spot from over-development, a traditional tea garden, and the trees and park that surrounded it in the center of downtown Istanbul.

A highly rational (not emotional) Turkish mathematician said to me that, at that moment, if the Turkish prime minister had held out a hand, and said, "I too was once young. I too have known what it was to dream," he would have emerged larger than before. But that isn't what happened. His heart wasn't in that place. Instead, he responded with cold action, deriding all of the young protesters as çapulcu, or 'thugs' in Turkish.
Istiklal Riots
"Everywhere is Taksim!"
Kadikoy Riots
I loved the painting of "Berkin Elvan's Funeral March" and bought it. I then commissioned Alina to do a painting of what happened in my neighborhood during Gezi using my experience as a resident and this iconic image by photographer Daniel Etter as inspiration. Below is the sketch in progress.
Gezi Park Movement: June 1st
Alina wrote: "Sketch in progress for a piece depicting a night during the Gezi Park movement in 2013 in Beşiktaş, Istanbul. I have been reconnecting to the Gezi movement with this work- seeing and reading again so many stories of the community coming together for each other and their country. In the foreground waves break up against the pier along sea. Nature in this context reminds me of what holds us all, what cleans the air and refreshes energies amid turmoil. The flag bearer stands amid teargas during the riots ... in Beşiktaş on the night of June 1. A Guy Fawkes mask lies on the ground and a broken television in the pile of barricades to reflect the media situation in turkey as well as an evolution towards a social media landscape. In the apartment above families bang pots on the balcony in support and through the trees is Gezi on the hill with a backhoe truck looming." 
Sleepers in Gezi
Text with painting: “To contest the urban development plan for Istanbul’s Taksim Gezi Park a wave of demonstrations and civil unrest in Turkey began on 28 May, 2013. Subsequently, supporting protests and strikes took place across Turkey protesting a wide range of concerns, at the core of which were issues of freedom of the press, of expression, assembly, and the government’s encroachment on Turkey’s secularism. Now, having been spared destruction, Gezi Park and its famous sycamore trees have also become a sanctuary for many Syrian refugee families. In Turkey, alone the total number of registered Syrian refugees (Istanbul’s refugees are mianly unregistered) has reached over 800,000 since the onset of the Syrian civil war. Here, those displaced by war sleep, roll their cigarettes and quietly congregate in the morning hours. Şişli Camii lies in the distance and through the trees cranes cross the sky. The Bosphorus forms a migration bottleneck for thousands of birds as they travel from Europe into the Middle East and Africa, a parallel and ancient narrative of mass movement between continents.” ~ Alina Gallo
Alina is applying for a Fulbright Scholar fellowship for the United Arab Emirates. I’m pleased the idea was sparked when she visited my “Fete for Fulbrights” this summer. Her goal is to teach young Emirati women at Zayid University cross-cultural miniature arts and the technique of egg tempera painting.

Alina’s miniature themes extend beyond Gezi. That’s the sorrowful part of the Middle East. It keeps supplying iconic moments. I was deeply touched to see freelance journalist Marie Colvin’s work memorialized. Ms. Colvin, a dashing international foreign correspondent, who covered the Syrian civil war zone in an eye patch due to previous moments of daring-do, lost her life in her quest to share the conflict with a world struggling to understand.

I urge you, gentle reader, to contemplate the other beautiful miniatures on Alina’s new website. Our mutual friend, Catherine Bayar, has written an appreciation of Alina’s work that appeared in Hand/Eye Magazine.

Additional press on Alina’s work:

Time Out Dubai: Tales of War, JamJar artist Alina Gallo Explains her Artistic Expression 

About Alina Gallo - the JamJar Residence

You may be interested in these other posts I wrote:

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a Range of Opinion?

A Fete for Fulbrights

The perfect tribute to Vaclav Havel: The Vaclav Havel Award for Creative Dissent

Listening to Dissidents

The Restoration of Order: The Normalization of Czechoslovakia

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Friday, July 19, 2013

After the Trayvon Martin Verdict: Here are Ten People Who Helped Me Expand "My Circle of Compassion"

Trayvon Martin

Sometimes events at home are so dismaying I can hardly bear them. Such as it was with the Trayvon Martin verdict. This blog post is dedicated to him, my fellow American, 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin, who was killed while walking home by a white, armed, male adult.
President Barack Obama said: 
"... we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to widen the circle of compassion and understanding in our own communities.  We should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.  We should ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, how we can prevent future tragedies like this.  As citizens, that’s a job for all of us.  That’s the way to honor Trayvon Martin.  
One of the things President Obama asked Americans to do to deal with their pain after the Trayvon Martin verdict was to continually work to expand their circle of compassion. By listening to voices different than our own, we may come to understand what it is to walk in another person's shoes.

One of the great things about Twitter is it allows us to listen to voices different than our own in a really non-threatening way. If you're a white American who wants to do as your President humbly requested and imagine other people's realities, here are ten black American voices I would like to recommend for you to follow on Twitter. These people have helped me grow and imagine life in someone else's shoes in the four years I've been on Twitter at @emptynestexpat.

I think we should listen not only as a spiritual thing to do, but as a strategic thing to do. As our nation becomes more multicultural, the better we are able to navigate and understand our differences, the less friction there is on forward motion in the future.

Here they are:

1) Charles Consult tweets at @Charles_Consult. He's a Wisconsin native, attorney, martial arts expert and enthusiast, now living as an expat entrepreneur in the Netherlands.

2) Dr. Blair LM Kelly, an American historian and professor teaching in North Carolina. She's the author of the book "Right to Ride" about streetcar segregation. She tweets at @profblmkelley.

3) Every teenage student should be lucky enough to have a teacher as cool as Brandon David Wilson. Brandon, tweeting as @Geniusbastard, is a not only a role model in the LA Public Schools as a teacher, but he's also a cinephile, activist, and thoughtful commentator on pop culture.

4) Courtney Young is a writer, a Spellman grad, and a board member of an organization I admire called Hollaback (documenting street harassment). She's an enthusiastic book reader (I love talking books with her), and founder of Think Young Media. She tweets at @Cocacy and at @thinkyoungmedia.

5) I can count the number of inspiring American math teachers I know on one hand (in Turkey, it would take both hands and my feet...but that's another post). How about you? Do you know a lot of inspiring US math teachers? Here's one who teaches in the New York Public Schools. He is, as his bio says, "the teacher Gotham deserves." Jose Vilson, tweeting at @JLV is a math teacher, writer, and activist. He hates that it in American culture it is ok to admit math phobia; he works tirelessly to get kids excited about math. Just for that, he deserves a follow!

6) Robin Terrell is a San Francisco diversity expert who has something big in the works called "The Global Mobility Project" that is supposed to debut this summer. I'm very curious what it is, but I enjoy her tweets right here and now at @robinlterrell.
Michael Twitty
preserving and promoting
African-American foodways
7) Somebody I just started following is @koshersoul. Michael Twitty came to a whole lot of people's attention with his open letter to Paula Deen. He's a black, Jewish Southerner and culinary historian who shares food photos that can make a happy expat like me, currently enjoying Turkish kitchen, wish to be right at a Southern table drinking sweet tea, eating barbecue and making room for blueberry cobbler. Michael also tweets at @antebellumchef. Here's what he says is the "best of his blog" for new followers.

8) Tinu who tweets at @blackgirlinprague rarely tweets. I wish she did because she always has something sassy to say. She's the one person on this list I know in person. But maybe if she had more followers, she'd be inspired. She's a tech professional, raised in America, now fluent in Czech, making the Golden City of Prague her home.

9) Someone researching black male performance in American education is Antonio M. Daniels. More power to him. Our education system is failing black males and I'm glad someone is trying to figure out how to fix this. The last American education system I worked in had a 17% high school graduation rate for black males. You can follow Antonio at @paideiarebel.

10) Jennifer Williams instantly telegraphs she is looking out for the next generation of young women who follow hers with her twitter handle @4coloredgirls. That sensitivity, and her desire to shield them from hurt, is something I learn from. She is a writer, professor, feminist and cultural critic in Houston, Texas.

Of course, there are many famous names, frequently in the media, whose bio I won't detail as they're all so easily findable. I learn from @oprah (she's really the founder of this category, isn't she?), @MHarrisPerry, @baratunde, @MsTerryMcMillian, @elonjames, @rebeccawalker, @ashong, @DonnaBrazile, @neiltyson, @ProfHolloway @cornelwest, @tavissmily, @marclamonthill, @MichaelEDyson, @NewBlackMan, @BobHerbert, @VanJones88, @hillharper and @chrisrock.

Truly,what choice do we have but to listen to each other better? Who wants to go through life in a world where we barely tolerate our fellow citizens that differ from us ethnically? Surely we can think bigger as citizens. Our advantage as Americans is that we have the world's ethnicities and cultures living right amongst us. If we choose to only honor people just like us, we're missing the whole point of America.

Dear friends in America, what's one action you can take to help heal America after the Trayvon Martin heartbreak? I invite you to also listen...and learn. Thanks to all the people named above for sharing their thoughts in ways that make me grow as an individual.

You might also like:

Listening to Dissidents

A near spiritual experience at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas

Why the Obama Presidential Library Should be Built in Springfield, Illinois

What's there to do in Wichita, Kansas? Why not see breathtaking art?

Topkapi Palace , Part Two: Harem Culture Shock

Enjoying Neil Degrasse Tyson at the UW Senior Sendoff

Yes, Empty Nest Expat is on Facebook. You can follow me there.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

A near spiritual experience at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas

The stately
Central High School in
Little Rock, Arkansas

Chosen as "the most beautiful high school"
in America the year it was built
by the American Institute of Architects

When my girls and I decided to go down to Little Rock, Arkansas to see the Clinton Presidential Library, I went to to see what else there was to do in Little Rock. I was surprised to see that the Presidential Library was actually rated #2 on the list of things to do.

What people had rated even higher was going to see the Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site and Visitor's Center, where the gigantic American desegregation battle got a very visible push in 1957. As a lifelong learner, history buff, and former grade school student in the years that followed, I thought my family should devote a day of our trip to see it.
The building itself is so wonderfully grand.
A mix of Art Deco and Gothic Revival styles.

You can see why anyone
would want their child to attend this school.

You can also see why any teenager
would want to attend this school.

It's a universal desire, isn't it?
To go to a good school.

Little Rock Central High School is recognized for the role it played in the desegregation of public schools in the United States.  The admission of nine African-American students to the formerly all-white Central High School was the most prominent national example of the implementation of the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
We caught a tour just beginning
for tweens and teens
at the Visitor's Center
We tagged along with a tour by the park ranger for a group of Arkansas school kids because the reviewers on Tripadvisor had raved about the park ranger-led tours. As Brian Schwieger, our tour guide began to tell the story of what happened in Little Rock, I was awed by what superb metaphors he used for explaining the thoughts and roles of all involved in a way that didn't demonize them.

The park ranger asked, "have you ever had to share with your brother or sister and you didn't want to? That's kind of how the folks felt who protested the integration of this school." Everyone instantly understood that feeling.

Then he asked, "how many of you are married? When you get married, you're forming a union. Imagine all the ways we have to change when we get married. Some times, we have to compromise and do what we don't want to do. To form a more perfect union, each person has to give up a little of life the way they knew it before to create something even stronger and better in a union. When I got married I had to start doing a few more chores or going to bed earlier or doing things that help both of us succeed. This is how we formed a more perfect union.

He continued, "integration and sharing schools was deemed one of the ways America could form a more perfect union. Separate and equal schools did not end up being equal and without changing we would have a less perfect union."  These were such perfect analogies! Every kid there could relate to these metaphors.
Our ranger
telling us about Elizabeth Eckford,
the young woman who faced
the crowds alone.

I was shocked to learn that the 1957 crowd who assembled to prevent integration hadn't done that on their own but had actually been incited into it by a Governor who took control over local decision-making and directly challenged the Federal Government's authority to tell school boards to integrate. The Governor called in the National Guard to supposedly "protect" the students, but really it was to prevent their admission. That stunned me.

Governor Faubus did it because he faced an upcoming election challenge from someone more conservative than he and he wanted to be proactive about presenting a tough face on the subject of integration. But what Governor in their right mind would take on the WWII hero and President, Dwight Eisenhower?

The park ranger then told the story of local heroine named Daisy Bates, who had been president of the local NAACP chapter and a publisher of a newspaper widely-read in the black community. She was the adult who helped choose which teenagers would take on the daunting task of integrating the school. She also was the supporting adult for the Little Rock Nine.
Before the days of cell phones
and Twitter, the national press
had to call in the story on a pay phone
from this gas station
across the street from the school.
The actual first day of integration was delayed one day. Ms. Bates was able to reach all of the students to tell them to stay home, except for one young woman who didn't have a phone and showed up for school all by herself. The tour really helped me imagine what that young woman went through. When I listened to her story, I wept. I could not be more thankful for brave people like this young woman who dealt with all of the disorder and hate that day.
The gas station has been preserved as it was then
and will be turned into a classroom
for visiting field trips.
The tour made me so thankful for President Dwight Eisenhower who called in overwhelming force (the 101st Airborne) to get the job of integrating nine students done. I was shocked that Governor Faubus would even think of taking on the man who was the Supreme Allied Commander in charge of defeating the Nazis now that the General was President. Did the Governor honestly think he would be successful?

Governor Faubus, not only did not want to implement this desegregation but he actually closed the school in the following year, just to spite the President and the Federal Government. So now he was wrecking everyone's high school years, black and white alike! I wondered what would have happened if we had had a different President who wasn't as comfortable using force to make this happen.

Our park ranger has to go home at night with incredible job satisfaction. I could not help but think that sharing this story with Americans, especially young people, was sacred, sacred work. He made every child on our tour think about the leadership various people exhibited in 1957. He talked about the young white men at the high school who chose not to be violent, the white students who chose to reach out in welcome to the black students, and the brave African-American nine who took on this challenge. It was soooo moving to hear him make every single person on our tour, young and old alike, feel the leadership they themselves could show when faced with such a challenge. Sacred work!

If I was black, I would be so fed up with America's slow pace of change. This school actually wasn't fully integrated until 1972, but it's probably the same at other schools across the land. Imagine, if you were one of the Little Rock Nine and had undergone all of this hardship just to go to a good school and white school boards kept finding a way to keep the decision from being completely implemented.  How black people must ache!

Martin Luther King said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice." If you were a black mom or dad wouldn't you want justice now? Long justice isn't good enough. Everyone wants the best for their child. The slow arc of justice is just not satisfying if it your child.

Reflecting on my own experience

In the month since we were there, I've reflected a lot on my own family and whether or not we have done our share of work to form a more perfect union. I am proud to say that my girls went to an inner-city high school. While my daughters were in a gifted program with less diversity than the overall high school, it was still housed within this inner-city school where the African-American male graduation rate stood at 17%. Don't think I didn't want the best for my kids too, the graduates of the gifted program scored in the top 1% of the nation on the ACT.

 I'm especially proud of the role my youngest daughter took at her high school. The freshman orientation had been cancelled for some reason her first year there so she went in on the first day of school cold. She felt students in the years to follow would do better armed with more information on their first day.

The summer before her senior year she made hundreds of phone calls to her fellow seniors asking them to voluntarily staff a freshman orientation for the students. Dozens of seniors came in and the freshman loved being able to tour the school and see where the classes would be held. The new class learned the school songs, met the administration, and did all of those standard orientation activities.

 Daughter #2 didn't stop there. She created an 8-page color magazine to be given to each freshman with tips on how to be successful at the school quoting those who had made it to the senior level. She raised the thousands of dollars for that magazine herself too.

"The equal dignity of all persons is...a vital part of our constitutional legacy, even if the culture of the framers held them back from fully perceiving that universal ideal." ~ Justice Ruth Bader Gingsburg, 2000

As a citizen, I want our nation to form that more perfect union. I don't want to live in a country where people just tolerate each other. I want our nation to enjoy each other. I believe it is the work of the white people of my generation and my children's generation to make up for those past wrongs and reach out in kindness.

My kids are out of school now, but I can still make a difference by breaking bread with those different than me. I can still make a difference by reading and viewing someone else's stories and putting myself in their shoes. I can still make a difference by having conversations with people who are different than me on this topic. As Congressman John Lewis said back then when he was a young Freedom Rider, "if not us, then who? If not now, then when?"

You might also be interested in:

The Springfield Race Riots of 1908

Why the Obama Presidential Library should be built in
Springfield, Illinois

Touring the William Jefferson Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas

Geocaching in Little Rock, Arkansas

Listening to Dissidents

and this from Turkey as I watched the Turkish protests:

Polarization is a Choice

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What Creates Compassion?

"If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it" ~Atticus Finch, "To Kill A Mockingbird"
All around the world today, bloggers are uniting to celebrate our human quality of compassion.  I love participating with other like-minded souls on a project like this because it then also becomes a celebration of the new kinds of connection that the internet makes possible. You can find other blogs on compassion by clicking on the "May 15 - Day of Compassion" badge to the right.

Compassion allows us to sublimate the feeling of "other" that we see in people and instead find out how we are alike.  To really feel compassionate, we have to do what Atticus Finch, the fictional hero of "To Kill A Mockingbird" suggested to his daughter Scout. We need to consider life from the other person's point of view.

How do we do that when the "other" is "the other?" If a group of people is unknown to us, and we fear them, we don't know any of them, we haven't talked to any of them, we will probably let fear of them grow in our mind.

I suggest the quickest way to grow compassion for others that we do not know or understand is to consume each other's literature and media.  My country would be a different place if the American people had access to Al Jazeera and could see the Arab point-of-view.  My country would be a different place if it would choose to have a more global appetite for media, and not just consume home-grown American books, TV shows, and movies. I believe we would literally be nicer.

The useful thing about consuming media of "the other" is that it is not threatening.  We can hear the opinions, emotions, feelings of those who disagree with us or see things differently without having to instantly react.

I remember when I saw the movie "Cesky Mir," a thought-provoking Czech movie describing how Czechs were working to end a possible American-installed radar system on their land.  What stunned me was not the arguments against the missile system, but the knowledge the Czechs had about how corrupting all that American money floating around would be to their tiny little democracy.  I believe Americans are so used to that wash of money over our government we can hardly see its influence anymore - it seems normal.

In the movie Cesky Mir, one old village lady asked, "how can we trust the Americans? You see the kind of crap they send to our country for our young people through their movies!" Yikes, that cut me to the quick because I knew it was true. We do create a lot of crap movies! I acknowledge and agree with her point-of-view.

Could that be the future? Citizens of one country getting citizens of another country to question how they do things through media? This could be the start of mass grass-roots diplomacy!
Maya Angelou

One area where I feel that I have a lot of compassion and where my country has grown a lot of compassion is in race relations.  That has been the work of my generation of white Americans: opening our heart to the full participation of African-Americans in American life. I have consumed untold quantities of African-American literature, music, and movies. I defy anyone to read Maya Angelou's "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" or Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man" and remain compassion-less.

Ralph Ellison
This is why literature is so incredibly important and why I am so proud of my profession of librarianship.  It heals society. It strengthens our heart muscles and makes them more daring and more loving. I have scads of African-American friends because I feel comfortable with them because I am comfortable with their outlook on life (as much as one can generalize about a whole group of people) through the consumption of their media.

I can see both the good and the bad in African-American culture just as I can see the good and the bad in my Caucasian culture.  What is so healthy in my country is that we can laugh at ourselves and each other and discuss all of these things publicly. We are listening to each other and enjoying each other. I would hate to think of what my country would be like if we never choose to become more accepting of each other. I think it would be similar to this parallel, non-touching existence of Coptic Christians and Muslims that a famous Egyptian blogger describes in his blog "Rantings of a Sand Monkey" here.

In contrast to how comfortable I am with African-American culture, it was recently announced that America is now 16% Hispanic.  I have consumed hardly any Hispanic literature, hardly any Hispanic music, and hardly any Hispanic movies.  I tried to think if I had any Hispanic friends (one may call me on it later, we'll see).  I couldn't think of any. That doesn't surprise me since I have opened no window into their culture other than food.

I had never been inside a mosque until I moved to Turkey.  It has been so darn healthy for me to come form my own opinion of Muslim societies rather than stick with the image Osama Bin Laden thought I should have. The more I learn from Turks about who they are and what their culture is about, the less distance I feel between me and them.  It is impossible for a group of people to be "the other" when you can see yourself in them and feel what they are feeling.

If I could ask something of you today, gentle reader, ask yourself: "whom do I fear? Whom do I resent? Or who is invisible to me because I choose not to see them?" Then go out and find their best literature, movies, or music.  Start a relationship with an entire culture.  You may end up with wonderful friends who will enrich your life.
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