There's this organ in the middle of my chest that obliges me every second of every day by beating. It can be wounded, disarmed and stunned, but it keeps on doing its job. And it only asks me for one thing in return: "stay open," it whispers. "Just stay open."
Maybe at one point in time it was a real effort. I think I recall suspicions I harbored and some swirling fears. But, over the years, my heart does its job and I do mine. It beats, I stay open. Not all the time -- because there are hurts that catch me off guard and cause me to recoil -- but, as a rule, I stay exposed in life.
The risk, as you can imagine, is pain. The reward is pleasure, connection, and the ability to feel freely. I have weighed risk and reward and come down on the side of the latter.
My heart and I have traveled widely, and when someone asks me what my favorite country is I generally answer, "the last one I visited." I am moved by the generosity, quirkiness and depth of the people I meet on the road. I love their cultures and customs and the unique way they navigate life.
Then I come home. I start reading newspapers and, on the elliptical trainer at the gym, watching the news on T.V. Then I see old and new friends, and engage in conversation. It all feels so.... polarized. The Tea Party is this. The Iranians are that. The Saudis are thus and so are the Republicans. Or Democrats. Or Greens. North Korea bad, South Korea good. And how about those Cubs? Life is a sports match and everyone is rooting for his team. I check in with my heart and it is screaming, "Don't give in to this. Stay open."
How do I stay open? I certainly see that there is violence, mayhem, crookery and deceit all around me. But, by and large, it's committed by individual people, not by everyone in a group. If I condemn a group, I cut up peoples' uniqueness and dump them all in the same stew. And, as they simmer in that stew, they get harder and less digestible.
I suppose you could say that the cycle of hatred is created and maintained by attack and counterattack. I vilify you for doing something and you, feeling vilified, attack me back. Then I, angry, attack you. You, enraged, lash out at me. And we feud on and on and on. There is no more dialogue. There is reaction and counter-reaction.
"Don't fall for that. Stay open," my heart urges me, and I suspect that, as usual, my heart is right. I solve nothing by engaging in the blame game. I also learn nothing. I reduce your group to labels and adjectives and you do the same to mine.
I have no illusions that I will change the world or stop people from demonizing each other. But I can do something small that satisfies my own heart: I can refuse to engage in hateful language about groups of people in my own country or in countries abroad.
I can take a pledge of non-polarization.
I will not divide the world up into good and bad. I will not wipe out whole groups by declaring them bad or worthless. I will not assume that what they think and the way they behave are insane or evil. I will give them the benefit of the doubt -- that they are reacting to something, entrenched or angry because something happened to them or they fear something will happen to them. I will try to understand what it is.
I will not condone behaviors like war, violence, rape, or cruelty. I will fight against them any way I can. But I will not condemn the way groups of people think, even if it is radically different from the way I think. They are as entitled to their beliefs as I am to mine.
I can be angry with and disappointed in individuals. I can choose not to engage with them or make them part of my life. But I will try, to the best of my ability, not to add to the polarization on our planet by verbally vilifying groups that are not mine. A terrorist to some is a freedom fighter to others. I will try to understand.
I will obey the request of my heart.
Judith Fein is an award-winning travel journalist and editor and the author of Life is a Trip: The Transformative Magic of Travel. To find out about occasional trips Judith leads or for more information about what she and her husband Paul Ross do in life, go to www.GlobalAdventure.us.