Henri Nouwen wrote, “Ultimately, I believe that what is most personal is most universal.” I couldn’t agree with him more. While we all are different and unique, I believe a commonality exists between all humans. The things I experience, others experience. The things I feel, others feel. The things I desire, others desire.
Even in our weakness and suffering, we express a commonality that binds us together. When I am afraid or anxious, or I grieve, I experience in some sense what we all experience. When I am angry at an injustice or broken-hearted at another’s pain, I am expressing emotions that are common to us all, even though I may express it in different ways. In this sense, my experiences are both thoroughly personal and utterly universal.
What does this mean? Why does this matter? Because knowing this commonality allows me to love others who on the surface seem very different from me. That which we share in common transcends skin and culture, socio-economic status and politics. It is deep in a place science has yet to identify. Embracing this commonality allows me to feel grace because I know that another’s failures are not really so different from my own. Finally, this commonality calls me to resist, even fight against those trends which seek to pit us against one another.
When we accept stereotypes, when we single out a particular behavior as defining the whole person, and when we are quick to judge, we are denying that which should connect us. In C.S. Lewis’ brilliant allegory, The Great Divorce, he describes hell as a place where people move further and further away from each other because they can’t get along. Are we so different? We find reasons to hate before we have even talked. In fact, exchanges have become so vicious that we can’t even bring up many subjects, even among friends. This should not be so!
I write this because I am tired of all the useless bickering and intense hatred between human beings who all share a common soul. This happens in households where grace and love should be most abundant. It happens in communities and nations who use labels to divide and deny the commonality. It happens between black and white, rich and poor, homosexual and heterosexual, Democrat and Republican, pro-life and pro-choice, Christian and Muslim, male and female. We sadly jump first to what makes us different, never getting to that which makes us the same. I know that horrid evil exists throughout the world that should be resisted and fought. I have no intention of justifying terrorism, genocide, or sex-trafficking or any other expression of true hatred. Nevertheless, there is a world of difference between terrorists and our neighbor who happens to belong to the other political party.
I know these musings are not going to change political infighting and racial divides. I realize that I cannot do anything about the fact that some may judge me or put me in a box and assume they know what I think and how I feel. I can refuse, though, to play that game. I want to encourage everyone reading this to refuse to play that game. We can all look to find common ground and be kind-hearted toward one another. We can embrace civility and resist vitriol. I may disagree with a point of view, but I do not have to also denigrate the person who holds that view. We cannot let the media, whether right or left, create hatred and disunity. I hope that if we begin to see our own soul and recognize the soul in another, then we might be a little more prone to extend grace to those we see today, even those who seem so different from us.