Empathy. Tolerance. Understanding. All these key ingredients are essential in thriving families and communities.
It was unfamiliar terrain. I walked in the early morning sun of Tucson, Arizona. One figure captivated my attention: a magnificent cactus that was 150 years old. This Giant Saguaro Cactus was home to many birds and a multitude of insects; it was a bustling beehive of purposeful activity. Single-handedly, it supported a whole community, providing shade, food, and shelter. This environment created by a cactus organically is something that we, as humans, struggle with, regardless of our enormous abilities and intelligence.
The cells in our bodies create this same kind of cohesive environment as well. Each individual cell works in incredible synergy and harmony with all the others, performing over 4 trillion jobs in any given moment—until something goes awry, like our body being denying water, healthy food, regular exercise, or stressing it with unnatural chemicals.
Our families have an opportunity to create love, understanding, and security. How we grow up dramatically influences how we perceive ourselves and others. How we are loved impacts our ability to understand others. As parents and adults, we must model tolerance and acceptance of differences.
How Do We Overcome Bias and Prejudice?
Thinking of these micro-communities (the cactus, our bodies, and our families) filled me with wonder. However, my thoughts drifted to families I’m aware of that lack this same cooperation and cohesiveness. Suddenly I felt a sadness in my heart. Many times, I hear from parents about “lazy, rebellious teens” flunking out of school, in-laws that are unwelcome, or a declining grandparent dying alone thousands of miles away. Or perhaps I hear about a Native American being shunned at a park by locals.
Sometimes it seems like we have lost the connectivity that was so beautifully depicted in the desert cactus.
In our culture, we live very busy lives, and many times both parents are working. Relatives often live too far away to reinforce family values and support one another’s families consistently. It takes a conscious and deliberate effort to stay connected. Love is what connects us all.
If we are to begin to build bridges to one another, empathy and curiosity are keys for creating authentic connection. We need to overlook our differences and seek to honor each person's right for dignity and respect.
As Maya Angelou so beautifully said:
Love recognizes no barriers.
It jump hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls
to arrive at its destination full of hope.
May we all strive to rise to her words and live more compassionately.
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