In March and April of this year, I had the honor and privilege of working first on a military base, then in a refugee clinic. Soldiers, refugees…both these groups have more in common than you might think. In many cases, the level of trauma and horror that some of these men and women have endured simply to come (back) to this country is one that I hope you personally never have to experience.
Yes, I saw a lot of PTSD and survivors of horrors that no one should ever have to endure. But beyond these stories, I saw that these people are also, at their core, very human, and also very much like you and me – soldier or refugee. Your biggest, toughest soldier will still have to come in to clinic for knee pain from osteoarthritis. Your average teenager, regardless of whether she hails from Nepal, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan or Burma, when asked, will still cite “acne” as her chief medical concern.
So, should you encounter someone who has been unfortunate to have been forced to flee their home, I highly encourage you to talk to them, share your respective stories, and discover your various commonalities. You are more alike than you think.
Likewise, should you meet someone who has served in combat, I encourage you to, at the very least, thank them for their service, then take stock of the freedoms and liberties you enjoy today because someone else went to bat for you and your country. I then challenge you to take that someone else’s military service as a personal gift and make the most of your time in a free and open society that might not otherwise be.
Most of all, I encourage you to evaluate every individual you come across in this life regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity or profession as exactly that: an individual. Not as an automatic friend or enemy because of this label or that, but rather because of your shared values. In many cases, you will discover that you have more in common than previously thought. There are agnostics, atheists, Jews, Hindus, Muslims and Christians who have may have more in common than two of the same sect.
No, we won’t all get along all the time. But it’s not the label of ‘Christian’ or ‘Jew’ or ‘Muslim’ or ‘American’ or ‘Syrian’ that should automatically dictate whether or not we are friends or enemies. It is our shared and active decision to choose to co-exist together or not, to build a more peaceful world together or not, to take action against injustice or not. At the end of the day, these are the criteria upon which I choose my friends – and enemies. And I encourage you to do the same.