Apr 16, 2020

A Case for Building Consciousness

Excerpt from Do the KIND Thing

Only by building this consciousness do I think humanity has a shot at surviving the twenty-first century. Many friends in the West have shared with me their concern about terrorism and fundamentalism. Knowing the work I do, they ask me, “How are we going to get Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia to change their ways? Why do wealthy Arabs fund ISIS, the ‘Islamic State’ terrorist group? How will we stop Hezbollah and Iran from supporting Assad’s butchering of tens of thousands in Syria?” I am not a pacifist. I recognize that the use of force is necessary to stop totalitarian aggression and abuse. After all, I would not be here if it wasn’t for the United States’ intervention in World War II. But beyond the use of military force when absolutely needed, what role can education play to prevent future conflicts?

Trying to force-feed another culture with your own values and sense of superiority will never work. We have a better chance if we recognize that every person in the world wants to be understood. By building a platform rooted in dignity, equality, and respect, where all kids can share what they feel they have in common with others, I hope that Muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, and others will join the dialogue and help one another discover our commonalities as a human race.

Because I was raised in such a sheltered environment, I comprehend how isolated we humans often are from one another. Sometimes these misunderstandings can be funny. I grew up not realizing that the language we spoke at home mixed Yiddish and Spanish, until a Christian playmate asked me what the word tuchas was (it means “butt” in Yiddish, which he didn’t speak, and I was so insulated I thought it was Spanish). I also used pishar as a verb to mean “to go to the bathroom,” combining the Spanish and Yiddish words into one, a turn of phrase my children still use. But sometimes what you’re learning are prejudices that can cause enormous harm if you don’t understand the humanity of others. If your parents teach you intolerance and hatred during your childhood, what you get is bigotry, xenophobia, and war.

My friends challenge me on my naïveté: “Daniel, don’t you know that the people who have the greatest hatred and ignorance of the other side don’t want to be engaged with a curriculum on shared values?” I recognize how hard a road it will be to bring them into the conversation. But are we going to give up and not try? We cannot afford to just stand idle.

More from Daniel

2022 High Point University Commencement Address

Today, I want to talk about a light and fluffy subject: your generation’s role in steering humanity in the right direction. No pressure, Dalton. 

But in all seriousness, Dalton, I love what you shared about “leaving everywhere you go better than you found it…and finding ways to give grace and inspiration to the people around you.”  

I want to talk today about HOW to do that as you are all simultaneously challenged and blessed with graduating as our world is re-entering a stage of dramatic consequence. 

The ship of humanity is moving in the wrong direction, and it will be upon all of you to steer it back on track. 

To illustrate this point, I want to compare the circumstances when my father’s generation came of age, to those when my generation and your generation graduated from college. 

My father was fifteen-and-a-half when he was liberated from the Dachau concentration camp by American soldiers. He was barely alive.  He never got to go to school past third grade, let alone college. Several of your grandparents were around your age when they were sent to free Europe from tyranny and darkness. 

By contrast, when I was fifteen years-old, my family immigrated to America from Mexico. I was able to attend college during a period when passionate but cordial debate was the norm. I remember observing political leaders vehemently disagree on a particular topic, while maintaining a friendship rooted in respect. Our world was far from perfect – but the arc of human progress trended in an upward direction. Freedom, open markets, human rights, civility, and the quest for knowledge were all advancing.  

It seemed almost too good to be true.  In fact, it was so good that we began to lose sight that Our Great American Experiment isn’t so much a fixed state of affairs as it is a purposeful daily affirmation – something that we opt into, live out, and vote for not once every four years, but every single day – through how we engage with one another. 

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