"We are all just people," said Majd Bani-Odeh, a 16-year-old exchange student who grew up in the West Bank.This same student says she comes from an open-minded family, one whose members never judge a person before meeting them. What a gem of wisdom from a 16-year-old. Some people go a lifetime without learning this, isolating themselves from people they perceive as "other" based on second-hand information. Some learn this along the way, often only after they are forced into a situation that illustrates the similarity of seemingly "different" people.
I've been fortunate to be involved in multicultural and interfaith activities for many years now. And I'm still learning. I'm learning not to pre-judge people. I'm learning that I'm like many people who appear very different from me, and I'm unlike many people who look like me. I'm learning that religions/ethnic groups/races include people ranging from wild radicals to entrenched fundamentalists. And my world is richer for this perspective.
Question stereotypes voiced by your family and friends. Question yourself. Like the students in the article, arrange an event bringing together disparate groups. If not ethnic or religious groups, hold a dinner for Republicans and Democrats and Greens. Don't debate; listen to each others' stories. Get to know people as people, not as representatives of a country or culture or religion or political party. Do it for yourself, or for them, or for the sake of planting a seed for peace and civil society. If you want to go deeper, check out the programs at the Study Circles Resource Center.
Just take a step. And then you can write your own story: "I'd never met a [fill in the blank] before..."