My dear friends and respected readers, I have to get something out.
It seems to me that our nation is at a crossroads. I suppose it could be said that we are always at a crossroads, but this one feels like a fundamental shift in the American paradigm.
A leading candidate for our commander-in-chief can spout vitriol unimpeded. And the people cheer. They cheer!
Now, I’m not here to talk about Trump’s chosen policies or recommended plans of action, or even his desire for Russia’s assistance in bringing his opponent down. I’m here, as so many out there on the Internet are, to speak out against his seething hatred of the unknown.
I say the unknown, because in his actions and his words, Trump has made it clear he knows very little. Very little about the people he wants to kick out of the country. The Mexicans, who “don’t send their best”. The Muslims, who should be kicked out of our country. Women. Black Lives Matter activists. The impoverished. Anyone who dissents against him must be evil, because in Trumpworld (copyright pending), Trump is God!
Now, Donald Trump is a special case. Sitting on high in his gilded castle, he does not seek to see reason. He has never had to try to understand the perspective of those less privileged than him. He is impenetrable.
But imagine! Imagine if his followers were able to sit down, breathe, and take a second. To stop being scared about “everything they have taken from us”. If they could instead have a simple conversation with their Muslim or Latino brothers and sisters—not about anything serious, but perhaps about the weather or over a hearty meal or while planting a tree—would they still harbor that deep-seeded hate?
“With praying, it’s something that will make your life easier, yeah? You’re not stressing out, you’re not getting mad, you just clean your heart. The more you face God, the more you’re feeling confidence.” –Uber Driver #1
Recently I have been traveling a good bit for work, which means countless Uber rides. I force myself to sit in the front seat when I’m making use of ridesharing apps. Sitting in the back always felt rude to me—here’s this person who is making my life easier, and I’m treating them like chattel—so I sit myself up front and start asking questions.
I’ve had a wide variety of Uber and Lyft drivers—white, black, Latino, Arab; male and female; straight and gay; outgoing, quiet, and even deaf. For some reason, Denver has a high population of Muslim Uber drivers, particularly immigrants from the Middle East or Africa. And I love it. Despite being half Iranian, I don’t have many Muslim friends (partially due to the nature of where I grew up), and I relish the opportunity to learn more.
I have had two Uber drivers who spoke very candidly with me about religion and their beliefs. They are from different countries and have very different perspectives—one is much older and spent more time trying to educate me, and one who is younger and showed me a picture of his young daughter and his wife, and who was looking for more of a political discussion. Below, you can find snippets of our conversations (countries and personal details have been excluded).
[Uber Driver #1, middle aged, late night on a Monday, mid conversation]
Me: “People mistake praying for exercise?”
UD1: “Maybe! Yeah, a friend of mine, a couple of years ago—a lady was standing on the 16th Street Mall and he was praying, and she came up to him, and she was laughing. She was like, “Dude, that was cool!! Yeah, what kind of yoga was that?” She thought it was exercise. He was like, “No, no exercise, I was praying.” And she said, “cool!” And that’s how Americans are. They don’t care what you do. They don’t care. All they care is if you’re causing a problem, and then they’re paying attention. Maybe if you do something they’ve never even seen, they might ask you.”
Me: “Do you pray five times a day?”
UD1: “Oh yeah. Five regular. And I do another ten on the side. Two two two two two. Five times is the regular, and the two two that you add on each time you pray is called sunnah, extra prayers. You don’t have to do it, but if you like it, you pray.”
Me: “That reminds me of a friend I have who is Catholic. He goes to Mass every day.”
UD1: “A Catholic? Goes to mosque??”
Me: “No, no, to Mass. To church.”
UD1: “Oh! To church! Yeah. He goes every day to church? That’s interesting.”
Me: “He says it’s extra for him, that he likes it.”
UD1: “You see? You see, I would agree, because the more you’re praying, the more you’re feeling. With praying, it’s something that will make your life easier, yeah? You’re not stressing out, you’re not getting mad, you just clean your heart. The more you face God, the more you’re feeling confidence. But the more you go far, the more your heart is going darker. And maybe next then you see that money’s the god. Telephone is the god. Everything’s the god. No. So that’s the point. The more you go, the more your heart is getting softer in love and kindness. Praying is something that will prove who you really are. If I don’t pray five times, I’m not considered a Muslim. In order for me to be a Muslim, I have to pray, I have to fast, I have to follow the books, the rules, the laws of the books. You gotta fast, you gotta pray, you gotta pay the clergy, you gotta go to Hajj, you gotta feed the poor people.
Me: “Have you done the Hajj?”
UD1: “Oh no no not yet, not yet. Hajj depends on whether you’re financially capable. If you’re not financially capable, you’re not, because God is all-knowing everything. But if you’re capable with the financial you must go. But you must pray, you must fast. Pray and fast cost no money.”
[UD2, mid-twenties, Sunday morning, mid-conversation]
UD2: “I believe it will be a great future when everyone knows what Islam really is, who is the real Islam….The only thing that Islam says to kill are for people who are attacking you, who wanna take your land. This is it. But kill Americans, to make bombs and bomb, this is not the Islam. Islam just say you need to fight only for defense. So some people they change this, to be to attack, and they make it like as if “oh, you need to kill all the other people”, which is not right.”
Me: “I think it’s hard to be Muslim today because people are so judgmental.”
UD2: “Oh yeah, you see what Trump says.”
Me: “Yeah…he makes me so sick.”
UD2: “Do you—please talk to me as if I am your father or brother—do you think that he is good for this country or bad?”
Me: “I think he’s bad.”
UD2: “Wow. That is what I think. So my perspective, my view, I see that he speaks like a kid. He doesn’t even go to the level of the president of the United States. It’s not like running a hotel like what he does. It’s the United States.”
Do you see, dear readers? See how much you can learn in five minutes of conversation? I know to a certain extent I preach to the choir—my readers are my friends and family, and that’s a fairly self-selecting group. And for those who read this and disagree with my politics, I understand. You’ll vote how you vote, you have your reasons, and I’m not here to try to change your mind about your vote.
We’re all made of the same basic material, and I believe we are all fundamentally good–we seek those connections, those small familiarities, the shared experiences. It doesn’t take much effort to peel back any uncertainty and plant the seed of compassion.
All I ask is that we all take a few minutes. Maybe once a week. Maybe once a month. And talk to someone we know nothing about. Compassion is the solution to this hatred, and compassion can be found through understanding. How can we understand what we don’t know? Once we identify the humanity in our chosen enemies, can they still be enemies? I would argue they cannot.
I’ll close with a last quote about Trump from my second Uber driver:
“[He’s] just generating hate, generating racism…wow. Go run your hotels. That’s what he can do. Fight with the waiters. That’s what he can do.”