We’ve all seen the bumper stickers, the shirts, the mugs. But it’s only recently come to my attention that some of us hate them.
How can any rational person actually hate a call for peace? A plea for tolerance that might develop into brother- and sister-hood? For the end of persecution based on cultural and religious beliefs? I find it sad and I totally disagree with mindsets like that, and thus, I banish you all from my sight and hope you never find a safe job that you enjoy and that you go hungry and cold in the winter and that your children are ridiculed in school (if I even let them matriculate with my daughter)!! Oh, no wait, let me see...
co·ex·ist·ed, co·ex·ist·ing, co·ex·ists
1. To exist together, at the same time, or in the same place.
2. To live in peace with another or others despite differences, especially as a matter of policy
Ah, okay. Everyone can stay. But that doesn’t mean I approve.
And that’s okay! I can coexist with you without agreeing with you. Coexisting means neither that we must completely reconcile our differences nor does it mean that we must ignore our differences--the practice of coexistence is essentially a platform from which we start out agreeing that we all have the same basic human rights to food, shelter, education, and medical care. That’s it. We can disagree on how we get the food to our plates and what’s appropriate to eat. We can argue about how tall the houses are allowed to be in our neighborhoods. We can petition the school council about adding or taking out certain parts of curriculum. We can vote our hearts on what we think is the best way to ensure that everyone receives the preventative care and/or prescription drugs that they need. But we start out from the place and we continually remind ourselves of that, lest we forget that those we consider The Others are really just part of a larger group called We.
Coexistence doesn’t mean we all run through the fields of wildflowers hand-in-hand with never a roll of an eye, a strongly worded letter, or the raising of a voice. Our differences aren’t swept under a rug but neither do we burn effigies of our neighbors to threaten them. Coexistance is neither a movement toward homogenizing nor is it a request to turn a blind eye. Instead, it’s a call to practice discussion over violence, patience in the face of frustration, and a willingness to get to know someone as a person rather than as The Other (and there are always infinite reasons to label someone as one of Them). It’s a commitment to remain peaceful when we want to strike out. It’s a belief that we’re all important and valuable regardless of (and, indeed, because of) our varied social status, religious affiliation, or cultural heritage.
It means we’re not seeking to eradicate each other (which is important since there are those out there who’d like nothing better than snuffing some of us out--either just our voices or sometimes our actual breath itself). Certainly, we can share our personal beliefs with others and we’re happy if/when they adopt our views. But it’s okay if/when they don’t. Because we will make it work. Our children will attend school together regardless of the languages we speak at home. We’ll wave at each other when we walk by each other’s yards even if we don’t attend the same church, synagogue, or mosque. We’ll welcome a new family to the neighborhood with a smile and a basket of cookies even if their skin, eye, or hair color doesn’t match our own. But most of all, we’ll allow The Others a place in the We group. We’ll remember that we’re all here together, trying to make a good life. And when our definitions of the “good life” differ, we’ll know that it’s okay to disagree and to discuss those differences without intimidation or attacks.
It’s okay to throw out the old “melting pot” idea in favor of the new “garden salad” approach--we don’t each lose our individuality when we come together into one community or nation--we keep our own essence and each new separate flavor helps add something special to the mix. With coexistence we end up with a fabulous spicy dish instead of bland mush.
I am not the most eloquent, but those are some of the basic thoughts I had running through my head today.
And, just as a side note, I do NOT condone letting someone walk all over you with their “fake” commitment to coexistence like the kind the evil space earwigs proffered in Star Trek:TNG
Lt. Cmdr. Dexter Remmick: You don't understand... We mean you no harm. We seek peaceful coexistence! [Riker and Picard open fire, blasting Remmick and the creatures to bits] (Click to see the YouTube video)