Whether based on religion, race, nationality or sexuality, overcoming the made-up rivalries society thrusts upon us takes people with strong will, especially in the face of peer and societal pressures. And yet, humans are always capable of surprising us. In these cases, they rose above the prejudice and the hate and decided that some things are just wrong.
1. These soldiers were supposed to kill each other. Instead they celebrated together.
On a World War I battlefield in Belgium in late December of 1914, British and German soldiers decided to put down their weapons and celebrate Christmas together. In what came to be known as the "Christmas Truce," the men exchanged food, gifts and stories, sang carols, and even played a soccer game right there in between the trenches. More importantly to some, it allowed both sides an opportunity to bury the many dead strewn across the battlefield. Knowing full well that these soldiers would find it difficult to fire on the very "enemy" they had just befriended, the generals simply replaced the troops.
2. This Montana town had the perfect response to skinhead hatred.
After being plagued by a string of violent homophobic, racist and anti-Semitic acts by white supremacist groups in 1994, the people of Billings, Mont. decided they would have no part of it. Led by outspoken Police Chief Wayne Inman, the people resisted the hateful actions. A local business replaced one of its billboards to read, "NOT IN OUR TOWN! NO HATE. NO VIOLENCE." Citizens gathered within days to paint over graffiti slurs, the local paper printed an editorial with a full color image of a menorah, and local Christian churches even put up thousands of menorahs all around the city to show solidarity with minority and Jewish groups.
3. Berliners came up with a unique way of showing anti-Semites that their hate wouldn't be tolerated.
Rabbi Daniel Alter was walking down the street in Berlin in 2012 with his 6-year-old child when a few young men approached him. Alter was wearing a traditional kippah, so the men asked if he was Jewish. When Alter said that he was, the men beat him viciously and further threatened to kill his child. When news of the anti-Semitic violence spread, Berliners erupted in support by forming kippah flash mobs, with local politicians even sporting yarmulkes in solidarity.
4. Women across Sweden had this powerful response after a Muslim woman was beaten for wearing a head scarf.
A pregnant Muslim woman was brutally attacked in Sweden last year, having her hijab (a traditional Muslim head scarf) ripped off, her head slammed into a car, and racial slurs yelled at her. As the victim lay unconscious in the hospital, Muslim and non-Muslim women around the country took to Twitter and Instagram, posting pictures of themselves in the traditional headscarf to protest the hateful act.
5. This unlikely partnership showed the true power of love, forgiveness and redemption.
In August of 2012, a white supremacist entered a Milwaukee Sikh temple and opened fire, killing six people, including the father of Pardeep Kaleka (above left). Just weeks after the tragedy, Kaleka was contacted by a former white supremacist who wanted to meet up and do something to prevent further violence. Though initially unsure, Kaleka eventually did meet with Arno Michaelis (above right), a 42-year-old former white supremacist who says he contributed so extensively to the movement that he may have influenced the shooter in someway.
Kaleka wanted his dad's memory to be a force for peace and believes that Michaelis' story proves people can turn away from a life of hate. One and a half years later, Kaleka and Michaelis together run Serve2Unite, a community group to counter violence with peace.
6. This pastor got kicked out of his church for officiating his gay son's wedding. His response was amazing.
In 2000, Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor with the United Methodist Church found out that his 17-year-old son Tim was gay and considering suicide because he didn't know how to deal with it. Schaefer didn't believe it until his son came out to him personally. Tearfully, the Schaefers accepted their son, telling him they loved him "no matter what."
Years later, Timmet the love of his life and got engaged. Rev. Schaefer and his wife were ecstatic, and then Tim dropped something else on him: They wanted him to officiate the wedding. "Absolutely," Shaefer said, despite the realization that this wouldn't sit well with his church. He presided over the ceremony, but was suspended by his church and later removed as a minister altogether. Schaefer has been adamant that he'll not only continue to spread God's word, but that he'd continue to do so within the LGBT community as well -- which includes performing gay weddings.
7. This teen showed what happens when you respect even those who hate you.
In June of 1996 in Ann Arbor, a fairly liberal town in southeastern Michigan, the Ku Klux Klan scheduled a rally at city hall. When locals heard the news, 300 protestors, including Keshia Thomas, then 18 years old, turned up to to counter the KKK. A mere 17 Klansmen participated in the rally, grossly outnumbered by the protestors. When one white supremacist got mixed in with the counter-demonstration, the event turned violent, with the KKK member falling to the ground getting kicked and beaten with sticks.
People shouted "Kill the Nazi," and it could have turned deadly if not for Thomas, who jumped on top of the man to protect him from the mob's blows. She very well could have saved the life of a man who was there to actively promote hate of people like her -- a man who might not have cared whether she herself lived or died.
8. When a special needs girl got bullied, an unlikely group of kids came to her defense.
When Chy Johnson, a special needs student at Queen Creek High School in Arizona, was being bullied at school, her mother called Carson Jones, a family friend and the school's star quarterback, to find out the students responsible. Carson did her one better. He and the other members of the football team took Chy under their wing, walked her to and from classes, and even sat to eat lunch with her. Oddly enough, the bullies seemed to become rather timid and cowardly after that.
9. An Israeli soldier had his life saved by the people he probably least expected.
In 2007, a member of the Israeli Defense Force accidentally drove into the Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank. Upon noticing, Palestinians surrounded his car, forced him out and began beating him in the street. Before the IDF officer could be killed, Palestinian Authority soldiers intervened, rescuing the Israeli just as his car was torched by the mob. Islamic extremists were unhappy that they were denied the opportunity to kidnap the IDF officer, but the Palestinian soldiers proved that humans are capable of peace, even when it isn't the norm.
10. These Muslims formed a barrier in defense of religious freedom. Someone else's.
Just weeks after twin suicide bombers killed over 100 people at a Christian church in Pakistan, an estimated 300 Muslims gathered around St. Anthony's Church, forming a barrier of support to allow the Christians within to practice their religion without fear of terror or prejudice. It was the second human chain formed in as many weeks, as citizens across the country aimed to protect the rights of the minority group. “Well the terrorists showed us what they do on Sundays," said organizer Mohammad Jibran Nasi. "Here we are showing them what we do on Sundays. We unite.”
11. A company went above and beyond to take a stand against a display of racism and intolerance it could have easily ignored.
PHOTO: On this GAP subway ad featuring a Sikh man...Vandals have written "Make Bombs" & "Please stop driving taxis" pic.twitter.com/yvw2vhfexW
— Arsalan Iftikhar™ (@TheMuslimGuy) November 25, 2013
When Arsalan Iftikhar, senior editor at The Islamic Monthly and founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, saw that a Gap ad featuring a Sikh model had been vandalized with some rather disturbing racist graffiti, he posted it to Twitter, because he "wanted the world to see how millions of brown people are viewed in America today."
Gap saw the post shortly thereafter and not only asked for the location of the ad, presumably to fix it, but they also changed the background of their Twitter account to the original photo in question. The move was applauded by Sikh and Muslim groups alike.
12. More than 40 students showed their bullied classmate the respect he deserved.
Danny Keefe is a first grader from Williams Intermediate School in Bridgewater, Mass. who serves as "water coach" for the fifth grade football team.
When the fifth grade football team heard Danny was being bullied over a speech impediment and his awesome wardrobe (he chooses to wear a suit and tie to school every day), they organized a "Danny Appreciation Day" and more than forty students showed up to school in suits and ties, taking a cue from Danny's characteristic style. Ellen rewarded the students' anti-bullying effort with an congratulatory message from NFL star Tom Brady. Though just fifth graders, these kids showed a wisdom beyond their years and proved that compassion is so much better than exclusion and hate.
13. A police officer had an unexpected reaction to a Bulgarian protester's plea for peace.
In November, the youth of Bulgaria attempted to occupy the Bulgarian Parliament building in opposition to Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski, whose political appointments earlier this year outraged the public. When their attempts to occupy were unsuccessful, they took to the streets and broke through police barricades.
With previous protests over the summer ending in police-sanctioned violence, both the police and the country's youth were on edge. That led to this captivating image, which, according to the person who uploaded the image, shows a young woman pleading with an officer not to use violence. The police officer was also reportedly in tears, telling the woman, in a show of understanding, empathy and solidarity, "You just hold on girl."
14. The Westboro Baptist Church planned to picket the funeral of a fallen soldier and former student. The school had something else in mind.
Lt. Col. Roy Tisdale, a Texas A&M alum, died tragically in June of 2012 when a fellow soldier shot him and injured another before turning the gun on himself at North Carolina's Fort Bragg. When everyone's least favorite religious hate group, the Westboro Baptist Church, announced that they were planning to picket his funeral, the students of Texas A&M said no thanks.
Hundreds and hundreds of students showed up to the funeral and formed a maroon wall (the school color) to prevent the WBC from being seen or gaining entry. Though they planned on attending, when put up against hundreds of college students united for a cause, the WBC was mysteriously absent.