BY BEN SIMASEK — Today, I took a bike ride on the trail along the Northwest Branch of the Anacostia River, which features some beautiful park land. I stopped on a footbridge, listened to the water trickling 20 feet beneath me and the birds chirping above, and watched the colors of the fading sun soak in the last few rays of the day through the trees. I reflected on nature — both the earth and human nature.
More than just a place where many springs of water trickle together, a river represents a converging point of humanity. On any given day by this trail, you will see Americans and American immigrants of all races, origins, and creeds. As I was riding through this stretch of river that winds through suburban neighborhoods and busy commercial centers, I passed people of all kinds. I saw a Muslim couple carrying their young child from the park. I saw several groups of Latino men and women, some black folks, some white, some of Caribbean, African, or Asian origin.
We live in a beautifully diverse community, and although the exchanges between people of different cultures may sometimes seem limited, I think we are mixing and coexisting pretty happily around here. Everyone on the trail was there to enjoy nature, play, exercise, find peace and calm, or bond with friends and loved ones. We were all just being humans. I smiled and waved to everyone I passed, and I got many friendly smiles and waves in return.
I drew strength from this, after recently having felt the pain of tragic and disturbing news. We in Hyattsville and the neighboring areas have the good fortune of proving to our country and our world that people of all colors and backgrounds and beliefs can live harmoniously.
When we hear scary and sad stories of violence, the way we respond is so important. Some people choose to react with the worst parts of our nature: fear, distrust, “other-ization.” When a sick person commits a terrible act, some folks immediately obsess over the color of his or her skin or alleged religion and treat everyone else who is a similar color or who identifies by a similar label with suspicion. We need to avoid this dangerous instinct.
In a world of over 7 billion humans, there are going to be a few that are mentally and spiritually sick and confused by hatred — sadly, some of them find a way to turn hatred into violence. Their families may have arrived in the country generations ago or more recently. They may be women, but they are usually men. They can be brown, white, black, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, or whatever. Of course while the KKK may self-identify as Christian and Daesh may self-identify as Muslim, the billions who are peaceful followers of these religious doctrines condemn them. Likewise, folks of any skin color agree that disturbed individuals of similar complexion do not in any way represent an entire race.
It’s up to the rest of us to create an environment where people aren’t as likely to feel isolation, devaluation, rejection, and hate. We can never allow acts of hate to dictate our relationships with each other or deepen our divisions. That’s why we should make the intentional choice to simply be kind to each other, despite the perceived barriers.
While compassion and kindness are strong tendencies in our species, we must admit we also have some tendency to fear or distrust people due to our perceived differences. We can all consciously make an effort to suppress this tendency. We must emotionally evolve.
This means recognizing the incontrovertible, yet underappreciated, fact that almost all human beings value peace, family, love, life connection, and community. While we have different appearances, beliefs, and expressions of identity, we are all one of a kind: human.
Community can be broken down into the two words “common” and “unity.” A true community is created when we recognize what we share in common and, through this, achieve unity. Our small local community can be seen as a microcosm of a much larger global one. I hope if you’re reading this you are also happy to do your part in making Hyattsville a community where many different kinds of people can come together and be friendly with each other.
Maybe we’ll cross paths in one of our great public spaces and share a friendly smile, wave, or greeting. I hope to see you by the river!