by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
The world seems trapped in perpetual “us and them” warfare. No surprise, I guess, since “tribalism” is one of the oldest human cultures on earth. This point of view has long divided societies into subgroups called tribes who believe they share a sense of identity and kinship. We’ve grown quite accustomed to restricting ourselves into groups and categories.
I was taught to pick sides for relay teams in kindergarten. My life has always been about picking sides and recognizing differences — from the group of friends to have, to the color of our skin; from the religious denomination to join, to the size of our house; from the preference of sports team, to the type of car we drive; from the political party to endorse, and so on. It often seems impossible to see anything but our differences.
But what if the tribal perspective is not the best and most beneficial outlook — or even accurate from a spiritual standpoint? It seems to me that Christ Jesus’ teachings lead us to conclude another vantage point should govern our lives — one that makes any view that would separate and divide not a good or appropriate or right choice. He points out the two greatest commandments. The first is: “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Then Jesus tells us the second is like unto the first: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:29-31).
Certainly, recognizing that there is only one God unifies us in the understanding that we all have the same divine Parent. Our viewpoint changes to “we” instead of “us and them.” And loving our neighbor becomes more about what binds us rather than what separates us. Are we not interconnected as a universal community of God’s beloved children? How does this premise change our attitudes, opinions, decisions, choices and behavior toward each other, about each other, for each other?
I’m reminded of a story I heard long ago of a Midwestern farmer who year after year won a blue ribbon for his corn in the state fair. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and discovered the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbors. This surprised the reporter, since the farmer’s neighbors were also entering their corn in the same competition. The farmer explained how wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and carries it from field to field. He said, “If my neighbors grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbors grow good corn.”
I loved this lesson of the connectedness of life. It points to solutions for every community and world problem. Those who choose to be at peace must help their neighbors to be at peace. Those who choose to live well must help others to live well. Those who choose to be happy must help others to find happiness. The welfare of each one is bound up with the welfare of all. So, “if we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbors grow good corn.”
Sept. 11, 2001 taught me I could no longer live in isolation from the rest of the world. I am connected to my brethren around the globe. I can’t ignore opinions and philosophies that differ from mine. And I can’t ignore the suffering, confusion and misunderstandings of my neighbors either. Shortly after 9/11, I wrote and submitted my first guest column to a newspaper. My hope has been that by sharing ideas and experiences that have helped me, I may be of help to others. And I’m listening to, reading and desiring to understand viewpoints of others, too.
A couple of weeks ago a news commentary about the work Heifer International is doing in Tanzanian communities in the battle against hunger and poverty caught my attention. This organization expounds upon a simple idea of giving families a source of food, such as a heifer, rather than short-term relief of food provisions. But even more compelling is the project’s “Passing on the Gift” aspect, in which participants in the program agree to experience the joy of helping others by giving a neighbor the offspring of their animal as well as training support. In Tanzania, Christian and Muslim neighbors are forming bonds and joining together to better their own lives.
In reading a bit about the history of this grassroots-focused organization, I discovered it was founded by a Midwestern farmer, Dan West, who after giving milk to hungry children during the Spanish Civil War, concluded, “These children don’t need a cup; they need a cow.” This conclusion led to his founding of Heifer International in 1944 based upon that philosophy, and since that time helping 7 million families in 128 countries gain self-reliance and hope. Today, Heifer has over 600 projects in 51 countries, including the United States.
Perhaps Dan West knew that Midwestern corn farmer. Maybe they were neighbors. They both understood that what blesses one, blesses all.
I’m going to endeavor to live my life based upon those two great commandments emphasized by the Master, knowing that in God’s eyes there is no “us and them,” for we be brethren. My hope is that the leaders in this and other countries can learn to make judgments and decisions on the same basis. Then, it would never be a question of whether we should help a neighbor, but only how.