I struggle a bit tonight with … not exactly “writer’s block”, as I rarely run out of ideas or words, but more with the issue of coming up with something that I think anybody is interested in reading. Some of my topics are wearing thin with those who regularly read this blog, and my attempts to “lighten it up” often fall flat, I think because I am not writing from the heart when I do that. So, I had almost decided to put it aside for a day when a piece written by Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Facebook, crossed my path. It touched me (he is an altruist, a humanist, and a philanthropist). What he said gave me the idea for this post.
Today I joined 60 technology leaders in supporting President Obama’s executive actions to prevent undocumented immigrant children from being deported.
As I travel around the world, I see many nations turning inwards. I hear growing voices for building walls and distancing people labeled as “other”. Whether it’s refugees, undocumented immigrants or underrepresented minorities, I hope we have the wisdom to understand that the best path forward is always to bring people together, not divide them.
I hope we find the compassion and courage to give everyone a fair shot, to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and do what we can to make this world better for all people — not just people who look like us or live near us.
A few years ago I taught a class on entrepreneurship at a local middle school. Some of my best students were undocumented. Because of that, they weren’t sure if they would be able to go to college. These are smart and hardworking kids who could grow up to be leaders in their communities and in the world. But despite having lived in the US for as long as they can remember, they could be denied the chance to participate fully in the life of our country and reach their potential.
We are a nation of immigrants. We are one world. And we are all connected. We must have the humanity to welcome in these children and to bring people together — and that’s what we told the Supreme Court today.
Mark Zuckerberg, 09 March 2016
Earlier this evening I was reading about the summit in Brussels with the EU and Turkey trying to reach some solutions for the refugee/immigrant crisis in Greece, Turkey and the EU. It appears that there may be some progress, though I do not believe they are even close to finding an ultimate solution, but then it may well be that there is no panacea. What bothers me, not only with the talks in Europe, but also the attitude in the U.S., is that we have all, leaders and citizens alike, lost sight of a very important fact. We have lost sight of the fact that these refugees, these immigrants, are human beings. They are people. They are individuals. They have feelings, probably the exact same type of feelings you and I have. Their heart breaks when their child is hurt or ill. They love, they listen to music, they dance when they are happy. They are not dancing right now, for they are scared to death. They are scared that death will be upon them in a matter of weeks, days or even hours. They have no home, no food, no medical care for their children, and nobody to help them.
I understand the economics involved, that no nation can take in all the refugees, that it would shatter the economy, particularly of smaller nations in the EU, such as Austria or the Netherlands, Greece and Turkey. I understand, also, that this situation has turned into a political tool, a bargaining chip between Turkey and the EU, but it shouldn’t be. Even the U.S. with all its resources could not possibly take them all. But to shun them, to treat them as if they are some subclass, just some problem that must be dealt with, is the wrong way to think about it. Yes, we must talk, we must communicate between nations, we cannot ignore our own problems, but we need to be working with other nations to try to make sure that somewhere in this world there are places where these human beings can find refuge, where they can have the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, clothing, medical care. If we continue to view them merely as a group called “illegal immigrants”, I fear we will never come to the point where we respect these people as humans.
I am very fortunate to know a few families who are refugees from Syria and Iraq. The family I am most familiar with, and with whom I have formed a strong bond of friendship since they came to this country two years ago, are wonderful, warm, loving and caring people. In Syria they were what we would consider an upper-middle income family. They lost everything when they had to flee for their lives one night. They have three adorable boys whom they cherish just as I cherish my own children. We have helped them, yes, but they have given us more than we could ever give them, and I am thankful for that. They have taught me humility. They have taught me compassion. They have tried to teach me a few words of Arabic, but I am not a very good learner, I think. Although I can say “thank you”, “you’re welcome”, “cat”, and “I love you” in Arabic!
A few people have said to me that I should watch my back, that these people are not good people. Why? Because they are Muslim. I will not repeat what I said in response to those people, but suffice it to say that I do not deal well with bigots. At the end of the day, we are all more than Americans or Syrians. We are more than Christians, Jews, Muslims or atheists. We are beyond the labels that society and politicians attach to us. We are something far more important. We are humans. Let us act like it. We cannot control what governments decide to do, but we can elect those who we believe will do their best for all people. More importantly, though, we do have complete control over our own actions. I am disappointed in much of my fellow mankind for the bigotry and hatred I see all around me. I think we all need a lesson in humility and humanity. Next time you see a Muslim woman in the grocery store, stop and remember that she is a human being, no better nor worse than any other human being. She is a mother, a wife, a daughter, just like you, just like me. Respect. It is, perhaps, the biggest 7-letter word in the English language. Respect.