I saw a slogan painted on an elementary school that read, “We all smile in the same language.” The statement was accompanied with a mural of children from all different ethnic backgrounds smiling and holding hands. I like the sentiment because it is profound in its simplicity; reminding us of the universal aspect of humanity.
I’m happy to see that children at that school are being taught that we are all interrelated as human beings. As a human being, irrespective of our cultural, religious, geographic, or linguistic background, we are more the same than we are different. Understanding that we share qualities on a very fundamental level develops respect for diversity and equality, and allows world peace to grow.
No matter where on the planet you come from we share the same basic emotions of happiness, sadness, love, anger, and pain. We share the potential to sing, dance, play music, and create art. We share the need to eat food, drink water, and sleep in order to survive. We share social connections with families and relationships that require us to communicate and cooperate and make sacrifices. We share the instinct to be in nature smelling the flowers, listening to the birds, and looking up at the same sky to see the same stars, the same moon, and the same sun.
I’m not saying that it’s not important to preserve the unique diversity of various cultures, languages, and religions. We just need to be careful not to forget the universal things that unite us as human beings. When we forget how similar we all are as human beings we run the risk of developing fear and a dislike for that which we perceive as different from us.
Nobody asks for their teen to be the one who is strung out on drugs in the alley, or to have their brother be the guy with mental illness that makes people cross the sidewalk to avoid him, or to have their dad be the one killed in a military operation that had an unclear justification. When things like this happen that are difficult to comprehend or relate to, it can be hard for some people to find the compassion or forgiveness needed to understand and accept. Instead they avoid, reject, or retaliate.
I worry sometimes when I see that we don’t even show compassion and unconditional love to those who we are similar to us. I worry when a parent disowns, harms, or fails to care for his or her own child. I worry when couples can’t speak to each other without being cutting and spiteful. I worry when siblings hurt rather than defend each other. I worry when I see so much anger, hate and violence in the world that just breeds more of the same.
If we can’t even unconditionally love and forgive our loved ones, how will we ever be able to unconditionally love and forgive our global family of fellow human beings?
The Dalai Lama once said, “I sometimes find it helpful to imagine myself standing as a single individual on one side, facing a huge gathering of all other human beings on the other side. Then I ask myself, ‘Whose interests are more important?’ To me it is quite clear that however important I may feel I am, I am just one individual while others are infinite in number and importance.”
His Holiness reminds us that ultimately what is in the best interest of all is also what is in our own best interest in the long run. This particularly true for those individuals who are vulnerable and cannot fend for themselves. When a child, an elder, or a person with a disability is suffering there is no personal need that should be more important than bringing an end to that suffering.
Maybe world peace is a lofty aspiration but I think sharing a smile with someone who you don’t know is a good place to start. Or just love your loved ones, unconditionally. Imagine what the world would be like if we all shared smiles and love generously.