The Race to Nowhere: A Summer Reflection, Dr. Robert Zuber

28 Jul

Not Welcome II

Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.  Amelia Earhart

When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,  I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.  Wendell Berry

Every person needs to take one day away.  A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future.  Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence.  Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for.  Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us. Maya Angelou

For a day, just for one day, Talk about that which disturbs no one. And bring some peace into your Beautiful eyes.  Mohammad Hafez

Rest and be thankful.  William Wordsworth

On Thursday, the UN’s General Assembly passed a resolution (A/RES/73/328) without a recorded vote that seeks to eliminate intolerance and otherwise increase its footprint towards a “culture of peace.”  In this resolution, the GA “condemned any advocacy of hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence, whether it involves the use of print, audiovisual or electronic media, social media or any other means.”  It also called upon Member States “to engage with all relevant stakeholders to promote the virtues of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, respect and acceptance of differences, tolerance, peaceful coexistence and cohabitation, and respect for human rights, and to reject the spread of hate speech, that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility and violence.”

There is certainly much to be resolved about.  Children stuck in horrific limbo at the US border; LGBT persons facing new waves of open contempt in states from Poland to Brazil; anti-fascist groups being labeled as “terrorists” by authoritarian regimes; fresh threats to journalists and civil society as “space” to confront xenophobia and other social ills constricts; harsh responses to demonstrations on the streets of Moscow and Hong Kong; an internet flooded by images of violence and hatred that serve to recruit as much as to repel; and, in neighborhood after neighborhood around the world, “welcome mats” being pulled up altogether or replaced by messaging that deters and distances, that rejects and self-protects.

In sitting in the GA Hall as this resolution was adopted (without a vote and with little apparent energy), the question crossed our minds:  Who is this for?  Who precisely is the audience that this resolution is directed towards and to what end?  We of course appreciate the need for this GA reminder of our failures of human communion, our temptation to yank up the welcome mat at the first sign of discomfort, but just how many were listening?   And how many actually believe that this text represents a firm commitment by states to amend their ways, to cease the current wave of enabling discourse and discriminatory policies that have released more xenophobic genies from more bottles than we remembered we had stored?

Today in the Washington Post appeared a column entitled “This Week in Racism and Xenophobia.”  Given the power and intrusiveness of contemporary social media, we could surely publish a column like this every day,  full of officials and more ordinary people now-enabled to share sentiments that turn previously-passive xenophobia into a much more active aversion to the other.  But let’s be clear:  as much as we might feel entitled to hurl invectives at those “racist” others, as much as we might like to believe that we are the “children of light” saving the rest of the social order from itself, that light is quite possibly dimmer within each of us than we might otherwise imagine.

For in the end, we ourselves are the object of our own resolutions, we stand at the end of our own accusations of racist intent, we are the ones also needing healing and not just the ideological adversaries for whom we have, more often than we probably acknowledge, laid out our own “not welcome” mats.

This is not some “can’t we just get along” rant, but a call to greater portions of courage and self-reflection, a call to take a stand for the sanity and sanctity of the human race in ways that eschews self-righteousness and that embraces the understanding that neighbor regard is the only viable basis for a sustainable planetary regard.   If we can’t do the first, we will never be credible on the second no matter how much we have convinced ourselves (and our inner circles) otherwise.

Needless to say, as vacation season cranks up in earnest in our baked-to-a-crisp northern countries, we still have a bit of work to do, not the kind that never seems to “withdraw from us,” but the kind that reconnects and restores, that might even bring us back in touch with the “peace of wild things.” And may we allow some of that reconnection to refresh the state of our own being, a being that also secretly longs to “consciously separate the past from the future,” to find a peaceful and grateful place where we can get some distance from the ever-enveloping distractions that permit us to maintain the illusion that we have somehow graduated from schools that others are failing in.

As our northern days grow shorter and (for now) hotter, please pledge to take a day to “talk about that which disturbs no one,” to make some space without “forethought of grief” where we might learn what we must about ourselves, learning that will make us more effective back in the world of resolutions and policies that many of us claim to cherish, learning for a world that simply cannot manage any more rejection, any more enmity, any more negative stereotyping, any more humiliation.

Rest and be thankful.



One Response to “The Race to Nowhere: A Summer Reflection, Dr. Robert Zuber”

  1. Connie Newton July 29, 2019 at 4:14 pm #

    Many thanks, dear Roberto, for this beautiful reflection.
    I’ll be in L.A. from August 21-29. Any chance we coincide? Love, Connie


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