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Who is my Neighbor?

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

Every day in my elementary music class, we start with a question of the day. You see, I don't really care how much music they learn in my class. I care how they love and who they're becoming. So for the first five minutes of class, I say, "Turn to your neighbor and ask them, 'What is your favorite thing your mom cooks for dinner?" (or something to that extent). Some say posole, others say spaghetti and meatballs, a vastly large and disturbing majority say pizza- which is honestly very relatable.

Some students are Mexican, some are White, some Argentinian, Nepali, Turkish, Eastern European- their answers vary as much as the countries from which their parent's immigrated.

Other times in class when we're working super hard, I'll say, "Turn to your neighbor and say, 'You're crushing it, neighbor!" And in the most adorable way you could ever possibly imagine, twenty little kids turn to their neighbor, give them the finger guns, and say, "You're crushing it, neighbor!"

They don't stop to ask, "But is he my neighbor? He's black."

"Ms. Miller, is she my neighbor? Her parents voted for Donald Trump."

"What about her- Is she my neighbor? Their family is Muslim- she cannot be my neighbor."

Kids don't seem to question who their neighbor is. For the most part, they just love each other.

I'm not quite sure at what point we begin to question who our neighbor is. Surely, it begins before war starts. Surely it begins before countries' governments, political parties, or mass pickets from whichever side spew words of hate to each other. Surely- it begins in our hearts.

This morning, our second day back to school after the holiday break, I saw one of my favorite 4th graders. I looked at him excitedly and said, "What's up, dude?! It's so good to see you! I really missed you. Are you excited to be back at school?!"

He looked at me- "Ms. Miller. I'm worried. We're at war."

"What do you mean we're at war, bud?"

"How have you not heard?! THE US AND IRAN!" He responded dramatically- as if I have been living under a rock.

"Listen, man. First, we're not at war. Secondly, even if we were at war, what's something you can do to make a difference? For me, I think when the world is hard, all I can do is love even harder- because war starts long before the first act of war happens. Do you think you could offer someone love today?" We wrapped up the conversation by talking about some activities he could do to bring him peace when his heart felt worried. My last question was where he had even heard about the drones and missiles- to which he told me, "The news-duh."

Recently, I listened to a podcast where Brene' Brown talked about our fear and belonging as humans-which she also details in her book, Braving the Wilderness. Within her hypothesis of true belonging, she points to a few paths to connectedness and authentic relationships amongst our families, colleagues, and peers- one such chapter is called, "People are hard to hate close up. Move in." This has been said a million times over, and I will say it again even louder for the people in the back- we are the most technologically "connected" we've ever been- and yet the most socially polarized, lonely, and disconnected we've ever been.

Could it be because we're languishing in a desert of sameness? Could our attempt to identify with all that's similar be the very thing which is keeping us from deep connection with each other?

Brene' says in her podcast, "If our connection is just an intimacy created by hating the same people, it's absolutely not sustainable. It’s counterfeit connection."

Is it possible my humanity is intrinsically and inextricably linked to someone so immensely different from me? Is it possible I share kinship with the very person who makes me cringe? Is it possible I am not so far from the very people I despise- or fear?

Brene' further articulates, "We won’t move forward without some honest conversations about who we are when we’re in fear and what we’re capable of doing to each other when we’re afraid...because we’ve lost our capacity for pain and discomfort, we have transformed that pain into hatred and blame. It’s like it’s so much easier for people to cause pain than it is for them to feel their own pain."

Recently, the thought came to me, "The greatest work you will offer this world is to live truly and authentically." I would rather make a total fool of myself trying to connect to someone who speaks a different language from me in the grocery line than to say I never tried. I would rather risk being rejected and embarrassed for the sake of connection than to live a life which never honors those whom are different from me. I would rather risk so many things than to have lived a life that feared that which was unfamiliar and uncertain- because we are all dying to feel loved. We're not whole without each other. I am not whole without my Iraqi brothers and sisters. I am not whole without my Mexican brothers and sisters. I am not whole without my African American brothers and sisters.

I'm just not- and neither are you.

So- who is my neighbor then?

Who is your neighbor?

If we are bound to each other, if we belong to each other- who could possibly be our neighbor in this world?

Everyone- especially those I fear because of difference.

In the words of Brene' - "People are hard to hate close up. Move in."

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