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September-October 2010
Vol. 35, No. 5

They are just like us

The following reflection was written by Dave Kane, a Maryknoll lay missioner and staff member at the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.

For a few years during and after college, I helped organize week-long “urban plunges,” when we would take groups of college and high school students to marginalized sections of Spokane and Seattle, Washington. The students would spend their days in homeless shelters, domestic abuse centers, Head Start programs, and on the streets. In the evenings, we would have reflections about what they saw and felt during the day.

Spending time with people they had previously only seen through car windows or on TV had a profound effect on many of the students. Inevitably, one of the young people would say something like, “They are just like us,” usually using those exact words to describe the revelation they had while being and talking with people they had always considered as “the other.” They saw that, instead of being so different, homeless people were just like them, but in a bad situation, reacting in ways similar to what they would do in comparable positions. That concept, that we are all the same, is key to forging sustainable pathways to peace and inclusive global security.

This is a reality that Maryknoll missioners witness around the world. As different as peoples’ cultures or backgrounds may be, we find that we have many more commonalities than differences. We all have the same dreams and aspirations of a happy, peaceful life with our families and loved ones. We all have an innate sense of right and wrong. We all have God working through us in different ways.

Maryknollers see very clearly the wisdom of Lilla Watson’s famous statement to a missioner working in Australia, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” It is this recognition of our common humanity, of how our stories our wound so tightly together, that allows us to lose our fear of the other.

The history of the Cosmos, humanity’s shared creation story, shows us that we truly are the same. All humans, as well as all plants and animals, are composed of the same star dust. We are formed from Earth and are transformed back into Earth, ashes to ashes … We are all completely dependent on Earth for our sustenance and well being.

All humans are slowly realizing: We are all One. By acknowledging this Oneness, we see the futility of war, the irrationality of our fear of the other. It is through the recognition of our innate Oneness with people all over the world and with Earth itself that we will be able to overcome the unnecessary divisions that drive much of international politics and interpersonal relations.

The current controversy over the “mosque at Ground Zero” shows the desperate need for a greater appreciation for the Oneness of humanity. While the proposed building is not a mosque, but a community center, and not at the location of the destroyed World Trade Center, but over two blocks away, the controversy around its construction is fed by fear of the other. What many in the U.S. forget is that far more Muslims than U.S. citizens have been killed by Islamic extremists. The vast majority of Muslims are peaceful people who have the same interest in ending terrorism.

Ironically, the Islamic center being proposed will work to improve Muslim-Western relations, and help to avoid future terrorist attacks. Similar to the urban plunge experience, the center will allow Muslims, Christians, Jews and others to interact with each other and see that for all of our differences, deep down, we are the same people. Hopefully we will be able to overcome the current controversy and allow the construction of a center that can help us all to recognize our common humanity and move us along the path to sustainable peace.

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