Community, Community Building, Community Development

Unity Amidst Increasing Diversity in Smaller and Smaller Spaces: The Vital Importance of Respect

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I recently posted reflections about the importance of learning the skills related to consultation in the context of a family, so that we can apply said skills in the context of society. The world is becoming smaller and smaller through increasingly efficient travel and exchange of information. This means two things: different people end up in the same geographic areas, and, even if we never leave our small hometown, we are exposed to an increasing variety of opinions.

This very new social reality creates the need to figure out how to consult not only about governance, the major topic of the above-mentioned post, but also about day to day community life. Sometimes even the basics need to be consulted on (for example, should we have garbage pick-up on late Friday afternoons in a neighborhood with a large Jewish population?)

Keeping this topic and the importance of community building in mind, three stories captured my attention last month. The reflection below is done in light of the fact that we still have a lot to learn about how to live in unity in an increasingly diverse milieu. Spaces in which we can generate and consolidate learnings about these topics have to be created. In this interim world of sorts, we can consult and experiment on the kind of people we want to be, the kind of community we want to live in, the kind of institutions we want to guide us, and the nature of the interactions between the three. Think of The Construct, i.e. the loading programme in the movie The Matrix.

We all have a right to do what we want in our and with our lives. We also all have a right to be respected. Because everyone has these rights, and because we all live together, we have to strike a just balance. For example, everyone has a right to express themselves, but we have to do so keeping in mind the need for strong bonds of friendship essential in community building. I think most people want their friends to be honest with them while also respecting them.

Which brings me to the first of the three stories: the blasphemy charges against the actors and creative team that produced the play Corpus Christi because it depicted Jesus Christ as being homosexual. As a blogger, I believe I have the right to write whatever I want. But I also believe that I have a responsibility to ensure that my writing benefits humankind as much as it can, and not stir sedition. Jesus Christ is at the very least considered a Manifestation of God by billions; why insult them by producing such an inflammatory play? One implication is that the writers think their opinion are more important than respecting a very large religious group.

Perhaps the creative team behind the Corpus Christi play has reason and even proof to believe that Jesus Christ was homosexual; if so, they should be given the space to present their findings, but in a way that respect His Station amongst His believers. After all, everyone can share their views, but in a way that promotes a discussion that will, in the end, benefit the greater good. We therefore have to be very careful how we share these views. The more provocative they are, the more considerate we have to be. We should also consider the timeliness of sharing these views, as “not everything that a man knoweth can be disclosed, nor can everything that he can disclose be regarded as timely, nor can every timely utterance be considered as suited to the capacity of those who hear it.”

This lack of consideration for the rights of all those living in the same community also happens at the grassroots. The second of the three stories that captured my attention last month is that of a woman in Toronto, who was denied a haircut at a barber shop, is filing a human rights complaint. The barbers at this shop are all Muslim, and cannot cut the hair of a woman who is not a member of their family. Why does the barbershop have to cater to the need of this woman, at the expense of their religious beliefs? It’s not like it was a life or death situation, nor is this barbershop the only one in downtown Toronto. Most ironic is that by filing a human rights complaint, the woman is infringing on the rights of the barbers to practice their religion, and so, does nothing to figure out how two groups with seemingly clashing views can live side by side.

This is not to say that those practicing religion are blameless. The third story that captured my attention is that of Savita Halappanavar, a 31 year old married woman who died after being denied an abortion following a miscarriage. The procedure was refused because of Ireland’s abortion laws, which are very restrictive on religious grounds. These laws created a situation in which an abortion that was medically necessary to save a woman’s life was not performed. We cannot say anymore that if we do not agree with certain laws in a country, we should just leave; after all, in a world that is increasingly interrelated, one can be a native of a country and, because one if exposed to different opinions online, not agree with one’s country’s laws. Such an attitude also does not contribute to figuring out how individuals with different views can live together in harmony.

When there is a lack of consensus on certain matters, I often feel like we hide behind rules, laws, lawsuits and human right complaints. We think that we are helping create a more just world, when in fact, we are covering the problem with a big Band Aid. What is needed is dialog, in which both parties balance out being frank with being respectful. In this way, we do not make religious groups defensive, we do not waste time and energy on dealing with human rights complaints on unimportant topics such as haircuts, and no one dies because a simple medical procedure was not performed. Instead, we can pour that time and energy into creating a system in which everyone’s rights are respected. It would be one large step towards building a strong community.

First published on Sahar’s Blog on 22 December 2012.

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