December 3, 2015

I’m Not on Your Side.


We can’t stand idly by while the world is happening and watching us.

“If you don’t stand for something, you stand for nothing.” The cliche sounded so stern as it left her lips, and I squirmed uncomfortably under her relentless gaze. “Pick a side.”

I was having coffee with an acquaintance and we were a couple hours deep in an emotionally and politically charged conversation about the Syrian refugee crisis. The topic has become a polarizing media darling in the last couple months, and completely taken over our news feeds and televisions in wake of the bombing in Paris.

But I had too many questions remaining unanswered to “pick a side.” I think we are largely ignoring a vast expanse of middle ground in need of further discussion.

When I saw the body of a dead baby boy washed up on a beach, I wept. I cried until my insides shook and my stomach felt sick.

I don’t believe all Muslims are terrorists just like I don’t believe the KKK is an accurate representation of Christianity. No one should be branded, or rounded up and treated like an animal.

I think the beauty of the Earth’s population is found in our differences.

I would consider myself a humanitarian. We are all different, gloriously so, but we are all human beings, deserving of love, respect, and a safe place to rest our heads.

I also know our perspectives are often based in personal experience. I am the widow of a military veteran. I watched a man I loved, respected and admired lose himself. I watched him completely lose his sanity. I watched him suffer from night terrors and PTSD as he succumbed to alcoholism, drug abuse, commit spousal abuse and finally lose his life to the war in his head. The response to his application for benefits seemed permanently delayed. Our experience left me feeling cold and disillusioned about the economic state of our country, and questioning the nature of readily available care of its own people.

So when the question was asked whether I support bringing more refugees here and providing them with housing and financial assistance to get their lives on track, I paused. “But,” I retorted, “what about our people? Where are we getting the funding to support this group? Why have we not channeled our resources back into our own, our homeless, our suffering children, our veterans?”

I thought of my own favorite cliche: when the plane is in distress, and the masks drop out of the overhead, we are instructed to put our mask on first before attempting to help others.

In my next thought and breath, my heart lurched at the plight of a suffering people.

If only it was so easy to end everywhere. Why just the Syrians? What about the other countless groups of people suffering, the atrocity of the ethnic cleansing that took place in Bosnia in the nineties, the casualties of a war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, genocide and ongoing mutilation in African countries, and the recent bombings in Beirut? Why do we not care about all suffering people the same?

Perhaps it’s just the perfect timing of such that these happenings are taking place during an election season, and Syrians’ crisis has become media fodder to be used and abused in order to divide the population. If you’re anything like me, we face trouble making a clear cut decision when it seems so many of the puzzle pieces are missing. I think the media filters information and continually stirs the pot without offering a valid resolution.

We are taught to question. And if we were not taught that, then maybe it’s time to re-examine our core beliefs regarding our government, the media and religion.

The more I ponder the moral and existential matters that concern all of us, the more discombobulated I feel. I’m certainly not qualified to offer the solution, but I know that we do not need to agree on policy in order to be kind and compassionate. I think we need to change our language and start exploring the middle ground.

No matter our background, experiences, or our political viewpoints, I think we need to keep our hearts open in recognition of a varied perspective.


Author: Ann Marie Matthews

Apprentice Editor: Adam Wilkinson

Image: Flickr/Tri Nguyen



Why We Cannot Blame the Refugees.

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