thoughtful comments submitted by Lois Ooms
We are entering the Christmas season, the season of “peace on earth.” Yet we listen to the news and hear about tensions and wars in many countries of the world. We also look around our communities and see tensions—people who don’t talk with each other for years, neighbors who are afraid because others don’t “look like them,” and all kinds of rumors, stereotypes, and biases. We feel threatened by those whom we don’t really understand. How do we even begin to think about peace?
I have lived and worked in many countries in the world, and I have seen that peace begins with my own attitude. When I see a person who may be very different from myself, do I jump to conclusions and believe the stereotypes? “He looks like a drug addict.” “She doesn’t take care of herself.” “He’s dressed like a terrorist.” “Their name indicates they’re from an ethnicity that sticks with their own kind.” And on and on it goes.
This kind of thinking creates barriers. The issue is NOT whether a perceived bias is true or not. My attitude or perception will affect the way I interact with someone.
On the other hand, when I look past the stereotypes and see an individual as a person, I can restrain myself from making assumptions. I can express curiosity rather than jumping to conclusions. I can ask questions and learn things I didn’t know. This is how relationships grow—when we recognize that we need each other in all our similarities and differences.
Some time ago I asked a variety of Lansing residents from various backgrounds and ethnic groups, “What do you like about living in Lansing?” Close to 90% of them responded with something like, “It is a quiet, secure community.” That tells me that underneath the externals, we have similar needs–for security, for meaning in life, for significance.
There is so much tradition and nostalgia surrounding Christmas, and we can easily make assumptions about people whose traditions are different from ours. But I hope in our little towns we can extend peace by engaging in conversation and being willing to learn about each other.
That is what the Christ of Christmas did for us, after all!
Lois Ooms, Community Development Consultant
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