This I Believe

Susanne - Austin, Texas
Entered on October 5, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: respect

I believe that peace is based on respect. Respect, in turn, is based in a spiritual understanding of goodness, known to some as God. This goodness is found in our humanity, but must be actively sought out and demonstrated daily to keep it alive and functional.

When I was a little girl, I quickly learned that I was different from most. Because I had Cerebral Palsy, I walked with crutches, which often drew stares and comments from other kids and sometimes adults. I didn’t know at the time but I was getting the short course in social prejudice.

My experiences and observations have taught me about the destructive nature of prejudice. It is painful and divisive, creating conflict, reducing some, inflating others, and manifests distrust and discord. False beliefs, born out of our ignorance about one another, intensify our irrational sense of difference.

To illustrate the absurdity of this, when I was about twelve, I was in a school exclusively for children with disabilities. There were several different types of disabilities and one group of one type decided that they were better than the rest, causing protests and unrest among this small community. It doesn’t seem to matter what the particular groups are, be they defined by disability, race, sex, religion, sect or nationality. It just matters that somebody comes out on top and perpetuates the illusion of superiority.

Like a malignancy, these beliefs can grow to overshadow reality, crippling all of us and keeping us from maintaining a balance of dignity and appreciation for others. Left unchecked, this leads to hatred, conflict and violence, even war, as we are now witnessing.

For peace to occur, each of us must make a very determined effort to experience respect, as fully as we can, in every aspect of our lives. I need to truly honor myself, my partner and family, and then extend the same mark of respect to my neighbors, coworkers, community, nation and world.

Several years ago, UNESCO sponsored the Seville Statement. A group of scientists and academics wrestled with the question: Is war natural and inevitable to humankind? Their conclusion was a resounding no. They said: “Since wars began in the minds of men, so also peace begins in our minds. The same species that invented war is capable of inventing peace. The responsibility lies within each of us.”

I believe that in a world of respect, we put a higher value on human life and dignity, honoring our Creator and all that has been created. There is no place for violence, abuse, cruelty, or discrimination of any kind. A world of respect mandates inclusion versus exclusion. Every person has enough food, water, shelter, and medical care to live with productive opportunities. Our children can feel safe and confident as they grow up without guns or drugs. We can negotiate any conflict, large or small, without the threat of harm, genuinely respecting ourselves and those around us. This I believe.