THE BLOG
10/17/2014 10:44 am ET Updated Dec 17, 2014

Why the Coexist Bumper Stickers Bug Me

pbyrne/Flickr

You know the "Coexist" bumper sticker? It bugs me. I think it's simply setting the bar way too low.

We already live together with people of all different backgrounds, philosophies, theologies, colors of skin, shouldn't we want more than to simply be able to be in the same space together? In teaching our children about life, the tippy top lesson is really all about love. Love yourself, love your neighbors.

Manners, household chores, siblings, homework, athletics, kindness in the lunchroom or boardroom, driving, waiting in lines, everything in life boils down to love. Simply love. Coexisting isn't loving, it's eeking by. It's occupying space side by side.

To be clear, I have nothing against the Coexist Foundation or their mission and work. There are so many organizations of good in this world, the generosity is breathtaking, I simply argue with the word "coexist" as being weak and diluted.

Words like tolerance come to mind when I see the coexist symbols. Does anyone want to be just tolerated? No. People want to be embraced, cared for, loved. We can do that through words, actions, service, beliefs, gestures, donations, smiles, letters and more -- whether across the street or across the globe.

I see it as an issue of open hearts and open minds, welcoming and accepting and cherishing each individual. We're not going to bond, hit it off or even like everyone we meet but I live my life and teach our kids to live with kindness, to act with love and respect toward everyone they meet. And everyone they don't meet. Listen actively to another person's point of view, experiences, and opinions. Disagree, sure, but do it with respect and compassion.

There is an absolute need to be culturally open and inquisitive. That's one of the million reasons I love to travel, I get a glimpse into different histories, different ways of life, different values. It intrigues me, empowers me and makes me more curious and more understanding. We grow when we can stretch beyond our own ways and ideas.

I feel the same way about someone who comes from my hometown, who lives down the street, who goes to my church, who seems to be similar to me. They're still different. They have their own histories and life stories, their own experiences and pains, struggles, triumphs. Those stories and points of view are valuable and I love to explore and share in them, too.

We're all different even if we belong to a group with an identified symbol. Yet, who can be defined just by one affiliation or one belief system? Who fits tidily under one label? We all have more facets than the best cut diamond, there's no knowing without exploring and looking deeper. You can't do that by just coexisting.

When I see the coexist bumper sticker, I can appreciate the clever way they merge different religious symbols. I've even wondered if that's the reason they chose that word for the movement: because it worked well to fit all those emblems.

But really, to me it's like getting all dressed up to go out to a party and having your husband look at all of your beautifying efforts and say, "You look fine." And I'm not talking about the "Oh, she's so fine," kind of fine, but the settling-it'll-do kind of fine. Give me a clear descriptor please -- cute, flattering, ugly, old-fashioned, go change -- have an opinion and be clear. Fine, tolerant, and coexist are wishy-washy, mediocre terms without any real conviction. They're accepting so much less.

I think what we should really be striving for is to live non-judgmentally. Don't tell me how to live or what to wear, eat, drive, throw away or buy and I won't impose my beliefs and values on you. You have your truths and I have mine and they're both valid and worthy of respect. And living non-judgmentally means to me that we care enough about both neighbors and strangers to provide the freedom for each of us to do what's right for us and our families. I think that's more than coexisting, it's being compassionate, empathetic, giving. It's trusting others and believing that people can lead their lives as they chose.

We cannot live without human connections. Whether it's lifelong friendships and family ties or a one-time chat with the woman sitting beside you waiting for a mammogram, life is all about connecting and loving. It's pretty easy to sit next to someone and coexist, all that requires is that I don't punch her out or say something mean -- it's setting the bar way too low. It takes more to love and be present for another human, to be open to a smile, a nod, a kind word, or a passing "Hello."

A bumper sticker isn't enough for me, I need a whole page to explain my thoughts, and we're all so complex we'd need volumes to share who we are at our core, but if I had to create my bumper sticker slogan it would say simply: Love. I don't want to settle for coexisting, I want to live life boldly, freely, passionately, and I want to connect with others, even if just for a fleeting moment.