* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Wisdom of Acknowledging Similarities over Differences: Rewriting Genesis 11

One of the most familiar biblical tales, the story of the Tower of Babel appears in Genesis 11.  It makes sense to blame or credit a divine force for the dispersion of cultures and peoples, and from the context, it even seems like this was considered a wise thing to do.  My revision, or course, stems from a radically different perspective. 

We like to notice differences.  It’s something that our brains do well.  Differences in language, for example.  Some might say that if it weren’t for our differences, we could accomplish just about anything as a unified people.  But when we start looking for differences between people, the list is nearly unending.  Every culture has its own unique way of doing things, its own stories, its own songs, its own language.  Every family has its own unique history, its own traditions, its own inside jokes.  Every person has unique experiences, beliefs, strengths and weaknesses.  However minutely we might want to parse groups or individuals into different categories, there are innumerable differences we can use as criteria.

Like children with a healthy sense of curiosity, we may notice all of these differences and wonder why.  Why are we not all the same?  Why do we have different stories, different songs, different traditions, different strengths?  Some people think there must be a good reason for us to have so many differences.  There must be a good reason for us to have such an obstacle in the way of accomplishing the great things we could do if we shared more in common.  Some of us might conclude that a higher power must have ordained the vast differences we observe.

Of course, there’s also something within us that hates to be wrong.  If someone does something or believes something differently from us, then we slip easily into judging which is right and which is wrong.  Most of the time, we are quite insistent that our language or beliefs or traditions are right, and therefore those that are different must be wrong.  If we have the approval of a higher power supporting us, then we have even more reason to be convinced of our own rightness.

If we take a step back to the question of why all these differences exist, there’s a possibility that we don’t really need an answer.  Merely accepting that there are differences between people and families and cultures might even lead us to look for commonalities.  Not only does the list of commonalities between people extend at least as far as any tally of differences, the truth and beauty and creativity at the heart of every person certainly outweighs any differences we may perceive.  In fact, that very sense of truth and creativity is what allows us to overcome any challenges that arise because of differences.

The 21st-century world has room for a multitude of beliefs and traditions and songs and languages.  While there are ethical and moral circumstances in which right and wrong are legitimate concerns, our personal beliefs and cultural traditions are not truly threatened if we give credence to the beliefs and traditions of others.  Humanity is full of differences, but human creativity, persistence, and ingenuity have devised ways to overcome those differences time and again.  We are actually alike enough that it is essentially as though we all share a common language.  When we truly acknowledge all that we share in common with one another, nothing we plan to do in unity will be impossible for us.

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