By contributing writer Mandisa Shields for KidSpirit's God Issue.
Throughout history, differing perspectives on God have led to immense chasms between different groups of people. Whether it's been the Crusades or the Holocaust, we as a species have been known to go to the ends of the earth to defend our vision of God. This includes disregarding a person's opinions, rights and, in extreme cases, life. Looking back at history, one may come to the conclusion that people with differing conceptions of God may never live peacefully among one another. However, I believe that this is not only possible but that it could become a reality in my lifetime.
My confidence in this belief stems from my experiences with my school community. When I tell people that I go to an all-girl's Catholic school, their initial thought probably consists of long skirts, daily prayers and strict rules; they most likely don't picture open-mindedness and diversity. However, that is a reality at my school. Although a majority of my peers are Christian, we do have a handful of atheists, Muslims and Hindus. Also, among those of us who are Christian there are different views and interpretations of this religion. It speaks volumes that we can not only share the same school but that we can form deep and personal bonds with girls of different religious backgrounds.
High school is known to be a time of fierce critique and crippling insecurities, but my peers have defied the odds by being open and welcoming to everyone, regardless of religion. By judging a person based on their actions and words instead of their religious label, my school community has proved to me that peace among different religions is entirely possible. My experience in this community leads me to believe that we can thrive off of diversity and openness.
Using my community as a guide, I've come to the conclusion that once we accept each other fundamentally, as people, we can live among almost anyone. When we look past race, religion and creed to see someone just like us -- someone who just wants love, compassion and happiness -- differences that were once monumental become inconsequential. Once we see that we are humans and not labels, we can accept and even embrace the fact that we have differences. I'm not saying that we have to adopt others' beliefs as our own. However, I do believe that we have to accept the fact that we will always have differences and practice the kind of empathy towards others that we would like to receive ourselves.
When Mandisa wrote this she was a 17-year-old high school senior. When she isn't reading, writing and drowning in college applications, she's aspiring to become a journalist.