Blog Roundup – September
This is the first blog roundup from new communications associate Gautam Srikishan. Gautam joins IFYC as a recent graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he studied music composition and worked as an interfaith student organizer.
Let’s be frank. This was a month of great conflict around some very sensitive issues. As if observing the eleventh anniversary of the tragic September 11 attacks wasn’t enough, we have also suffered the loss of several lives in Benghazi, including that of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens.
In times of conflict, it’s easy to fall for the narratives of discord and division. After all, this is what the most public voices tend to feed us on the nightly news. It is also incredibly convenient to make negative generalizations about large groups of people; this lets us avoid the complexities of reality. As such, conflict becomes the norm.
Still, my mind keeps coming back to one thing: choice. David Foster Wallace, in his brilliant 2005 commencement speech, said that we have a choice about what we believe. We have to choose how we “construct meaning from experience.”
We have certain choices to make about how we view one another. We can choose to lift up the narratives of conflict, as exemplified by the infamous ‘Muslim Rage’ headline. We can choose to see the violence in Benghazi as not only expected, but inevitable. We can choose to spew vitriol and ‘otherize’ anyone who disagrees.
But this isn’t our only choice.
We can choose to hold up those stories that show the best in us. We can amplify the voices of tolerance. We can bridge the gaps between us. We can act together for the common good. Of course, that all sounds abstract and idealistic, so let’s get concrete.
Events this month epitomized this power of choice. In the wake of the attacks in Benghazi, some media outlets chose to show the other side of the protests: Libyans protesting the attacks against the U.S. Embassy. When Newsweek asked followers on Twitter to discuss their front page with the hashtag #MuslimRage, young Muslim everywhere took up the hashtag as a means to humanize themselves. Gawker cleverly responded with more pictures of the supposed Muslim rage. And when a man sought to ridicule a young Sikh woman because of her unconventional appearance, she chose to respond with compassion and grace.
This month’s blogs also demonstrated that power of choice. As Anne Marie Roderick put it so well, how we choose to remember and honor 9/11 is crucial. Guru Amrit Khalsa chose to believe in the values of patience and mercy in Islam, instead of letting the actions of a radical few define all Muslims. Christina Ferrari recalled the spirit of unity in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.
When the world shows you intolerance or bigotry, when you are handed these opinions, remember that you get to choose how you see the world. You get to decide how to construct meaning from experience.
What will you choose?
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