By Tim Hayes
The Other. Who is it?
The easiest target in the world, that’s who. It doesn’t require much thought, analysis, planning, or empathy. Just point and click. Easy.
Poof! An enemy has been created, custom-ordered to your own conflicting simultaneous senses of both externally expressed superiority and internally suppressed insecurity.
Instant fear. Immediate anxiety. Do-it-yourself animosity, anger, antipathy.
Here “They” come, to take what’s yours. We can’t let “Them” steal our way of life. Don’t “They” see how much of a threat they pose to us?
“Us.” “Them.” How sad. How unnecessary. How far afield from the truth of human existence.
Of all the physical and emotional characteristics that all human beings share, do you know what percentage skin color represents? It’s so minimal that researchers all but discard it as a significant factor.
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health sequenced the human genome, and unanimously declared, there is only one race — the human race, according to an article in the New York Times.* Those traits most commonly used to distinguish one race from another, like skin color, are controlled by a relatively few number of genes, and thus have been able to change rapidly in response to extreme environmental pressures during the short course of Homo sapiens history. And so equatorial populations evolved dark skin, presumably to protect against ultraviolet radiation, while people in northern latitudes evolved pale skin, the better to produce vitamin D from pale sunlight.
Tell me it makes sense, then, for someone whose ancestors suffered from a deficit of Vitamin D to pick up a machine gun and murder another person whose ancestors worried about ultraviolent radiation. No, it doesn’t make sense. It never has made sense. It never will make sense.
We are all the same. There is no Other.
Some have more money. Some worship differently. Some need to flee danger in their homeland, pick up stakes, and seek asylum elsewhere. Seems to me I’ve heard a story about a guy and his wife needing to scoop up their newborn baby son and head into an entirely different country to escape oncoming violence. That tale couldn’t possibly have any parallels to our modern world, now, could it?
After a week of pipe bombs sent to numerous targets, and the most fearsome military in world history heading to the border to save us all from a ragtag collection of peasants trying to get as far from crime and violence in their home countries as possible, fear of The Other appears to be ramping up.
Then, just hours ago as I write this, a madman with an automatic weapon walked into a synagogue in my beloved hometown of Pittsburgh, opening fire and killing, at last count, 11 worshippers. Why were those innocent families, there to celebrate a service together, seen as The Other?
It is inexcusable. It is illogical. It is wrong. We are all the same. There is no Other.
In the hours following the synagogue massacre – which happened not five minutes from the apartment building where the late champion of peace and understanding, Fred Rogers, lived for much of his life – an old song came into my head. I hadn’t thought of this song for years, but it seemed to fit the sadness and madness of the moment. See if you remember it…
Listen children to a story that was written long ago, ‘bout a kingdom on a mountain and the valley folk below / On the mountain was a treasure buried deep beneath a stone, and the valley people swore they’d have it for their very own.
So the people of the valley sent a message up the hill, asking for the buried treasure, tons of gold for which they’d kill / Came an answer from the kingdom, “With our brothers we will share all the secrets of our mountain, all the riches buried there.”
Now the valley cried in anger, “Mount your horses, draw your sword!” And they killed the mountain people, so they won their just reward / Now they stood beside the treasure on the mountain dark and red, turned the stone and looked beneath it – “Peace on Earth” was all it said.
Go ahead and hate your neighbor, go ahead and cheat a friend / Do it in the name of Heaven, you can justify it in the end / There won’t be any trumpets blowing come the Judgment Day / On the bloody morning after who one tin soldier rides away.
Be that One Tin Soldier.** Be the one who rides away from violence toward The Other. The one who recognizes our commonality. Who lives according to the tenets of grace and goodness. Who resists and rejects scapegoating and finger-pointing and the words and actions of those who fail to accept responsibility for their own malignancies, and the wider impact they can generate.
For God’s sake, for everyone’s sake, for our own soul’s sake, let’s realize the simple and powerful fact that – at the essential core of it all – we are all the same, and all deserve dignity, honor, and respect.
There is no Other.
Copyright 2018 Timothy P. Hayes
** “One Tin Soldier” Copyright 1969 Bell Records.