Build the Bridge
“A person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not bridges, is not Christian. This is not in the Gospel” - Pope Francis
I recently spent a holiday in Mexico. Our driver from the airport to the hotel was a man fittingly named Jesus. Filled with humility, gratitude, and joy over the recent birth of his daughter, Jesus spoke impeccable English, was college educated in the US, and has two sisters living in California. After a graduating from university, Jesus hired a lawyer hoping to immigrate legally to the US along side his sisters. His lawyer told him they had a 50/50 shot in gaining legal residency. He didn’t get in.
Rather than speak bitterly about his experience, Jesus spoke with a sense of appreciation for the opportunity he had to get an education in the US and the silver lining of coming home to Mexico to meet the love of his life and raise a family. Still, I couldn’t help but ruminate on his seeming lack of opportunity in Mexico and the poetic injustice of a well-spoken college graduate having to drive a car for a living due to geographic circumstances. While I don’t know much about immigration law or political science for that matter, I do know that the country I live in needs more people like Jesus (pun intended).
I half jokingly mentioned to him that if things continued in the direction we were headed in our country, soon we Americans would be hopping over the wall the other way to live in peace on Mexican beaches. As I encountered more of his fellow country men and women on my trip I couldn’t help be bothered by the notions of building walls, profiling certain races and religions, and sending droves of poor and downtrodden people to prison. To the Pope’s comment, such responses seem very un-Christian.
As our trip drew to a close, on the way back to the airport, this time our driver was named Jaun. Unlike Jesus, he spoke very little English, although he did have a thing for Eminem! As he dropped us off, I paid him the $1600 pesos that the hotel had quoted as the rate for the ride. A few minutes later as we were rolling our bags into the terminal, the driver circled back and in broken English said “you paid me too much.” It turns out that the going rate was $1200 pesos, not $1600. I was dumbfounded. I couldn’t imagine any cab driver in the States circling back around thinking they were overpaid and not simply deserving of a huge tip.
Such examples confirmed my faith in humanity and the notion that we are not ultimately defined by our borders, politics, or beliefs. In the end we are all defined by character. Throughout history, character has been demonstrated and created by tearing down walls and ego, eliminating fear, and by standing up for justice. While the ego strives to protect itself at all costs, character is enhanced and forged by building bridges, not walls.
We live in a tumultuous time filled with great change. A natural reaction to any unsettling transition is fear and a basic manifestation of fear is anger. But while anger understandable…it’s also infantile (A four year old gets angry when they don’t get their way). We must evolve from anger and contempt towards acceptance. Further evolving means embracing the uncertainty of our times; for change is also synonymous with opportunity. In the acceptance of change, we will gain much greater clarity in and around the best policies and resolutions necessary in addressing these issues. But we must first address our thinking.
I’m not a political writer and while I generally try and stay in my lane of health and wellness, it appears to me that greater acceptance, greater compassion, and greater tolerance (to those who think act, pray and live differently) has everything to do with health and wellness. As love and hate directly correlate to our well-being both mentally and physically, all of these problems and questions are also questions of health. Our societal afflictions – our political problems, our weight and health problems, our drug problem, and our fear & hate problems are questions that only have love, compassion, and acceptance as answers.
Our common responses politically and philosophically are frequently rooted in fear at a tremendous cost to our collective health. Furthermore, fear manifested in action and reactive policy doesn’t work in the long run. Whether you’re a student of health or a student of history, the conclusion should be clear - you can’t fight drugs with wars, you can’t fight illegal immigration with walls, and you can’t fight things that threaten your belief construct with fear and hate. Doing so only worsens the symptoms.
My narrative may seem idealistic and naïve to many considering there are policies in place which are oft ignored or broken. I certainly respect that there are legal ways to do things and generally speaking, the rule of law is a good thing. That said, many laws are flawed, rigid, unjust, if not institutionally and/or overtly biased. Furthermore, while policy has its place, systemic problems are ultimately addressed and solved through right thought, empathy, and inclusion. Extremism isn’t best remedied with anger, isolationism, and more extremism. It starts individually with the simple acknowledgement that we must open our hearts and broaden our thinking. To paraphrase Gandhi, we must work towards world peace by finding inner peace. Oh and in case you’ve been looking for 'Jesus' and wondering where he is…he lives in Punta De Mita, Mexico!