Here at Case Western, I think all of us have some understanding of what it means to live under high parental expectations and the pressure to perform. Recently, I watched the movie, Taare Zameen Par [Like Stars on Earth], a film about dyslexia. The protagonist is an eight-year-old, Ishaan Awasthi, who continually fails all his exams and classes because no one at home or in school recognizes his problem. He cannot properly read or write and, because of his dyslexia, he has trouble with hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills and multiple instructions. His low performance is attributed to stupidity, laziness, and obstinant misbehavior again and again as his frustrations grow and his self-esteem flatlines. Even if we’ve never dealt with a disorder, most of us know what that stress is like –– whether it is internally or externally generated, about top scores or just about passing, we’ve probably experienced the huge pressure that derives from inability or taking on too much.
In the end, things work out for Ishaan. Although he is first sent away to boarding school by his father, a teacher finally recognizes Ishaan’s disorder, giving Ishaan the help he needs and the chance to shine for the first time in his life. However, looking around at my friends watching with me, I experienced a third person moment where I had a realization: Each of us came from different backgrounds and different places from around the country and the world, we were watching a movie produced halfway around the world in Hindi (a language only one of us knew), and yet the story circumvented all this. Each of us saw ourselves in the movie, perhaps in the demanding and unloving father; in the constant comparisons to the perfect older sibling; in Ishaan’s feelings of abandonment at boarding school; or in the older sibling torn between his parents, Ishaan, and his own high expectations. It didn’t matter that we were different from each other or from the characters in the movie; it was moving.
On a college campus, this supposed “revelation” is nothing outside of the ordinary. They are notorious for free thinking and liberalism, and geographical, socioeconomic, or cultural background matters little to friends or anyone else. However, this kind of open-mindedness and inclusion is far from the current global picture. In fact, it is a lot more uncommon than many of us would prefer.
The world is not like the state of things on a U.S college campus, and it is not like the state of things in the U.S. However, it should be remembered that people––no matter who or what they are or may be––are not so different. We are all human. We all have the same stories that play out in lives all over the Earth throughout history. We are also different: We know different things, have different views, feel comfortable in different environments, have unique histories, come from different cultures or heritages or religions or nations. Both of these things need to be recognized––that we are more similar than we think, but not the same; that we are all very different, but still human.
I think that too often (particularly in the US) we’re so busy trying to prove the similarities that we don’t allow space for the differences. Assimilation, and the pressure to assimilate, is a great example of this. This pressure does not leave space for all the wonderful differences in culture, history, heritage, or religion (and the list goes on), but instead erases these differences in favor of conformity. Another great example is the common assumption that what works in the US or the West, has universal application. Besides the fact that assumptions like this are based on ignorance, it once again fails to acknowledge the palpable differences that do exist between nations and peoples.
These examples point to a story that plays out in societies over and over. We hate and fear people that are different from us, so we remind others that we’re the same but then go about trying to make everyone exactly the same. It is important to remind ourselves of those critical human similarities, especially in the face of that fear and hatred. It’s the only way we might be able to one day build a world of peace, instead of one brimming with violence and war. However, we shouldn’t be so eager in this endeavor that we erase the important differences in each of us. Yes, an immigrant has the same human stories felt by any domestic, but they shouldn’t have to prove that sameness by forcing themselves into the same mold.
In light of recent events in Paris and around the world, I think this takes on special meaning. The global response to the simultaneous attacks on Friday, 13 November should easily demonstrate the understanding of what unites all peoples. Sympathy for the people of Paris and for France seems to continue to pour from every corner. I think, however, that God might perhaps ask us to include another group of people in our collective sympathies: Muslims affected by growing anti-Islam sentiment, Syrian refugees refused out of fear of radicals, and others who bear blame and hatred for something they would never do. In addition to this, I wonder if God might challenge us to take the risk of forgiving those who carry out such attacks. We may never agree, or understand WHY terrorists make their choices, or ever support their beliefs or efforts, but they are still humans. I am not saying that countries should forgive terrorist organizations, or allow terrorists to go unpenalized. However, what would happen if someone, on a personal level, forgave the suicide bomber that killed their friend? What kind of world would we live in?
There are so many examples today of people unable to see the similarities in others, or refusing to acknowledge actual differences, that the list would go on forever. That is what the news is for. The only time it seems that these biases ever seem to be overthrown is on an individual basis, in that moment when you realize that someone who outwardly is very different from yourself turns out to like the same things or has lived with similar hardships. It’s moments like a group of friends, each with their own history and heritage, who can sit down together and watch Taare Zameen Par without even a doubt that any of the group is different from any other.
Taare Zameen Par. [Like Stars on Earth]. Dir. Aamir Khan. 2007.
This blog is written by me, Katie Buerger (unless noted otherwise) and maintained by UPCaM@Case. I am a current sophomore at CWRU, and have been an UPCaM member since my first year. Because I am Spiritual Potpourri’s exclusive writer, this means the opinions and perspectives given in blog posts are limited to my views. I think myself to be open-minded, but I am human. I do research my topics (all the sources are listed at the bottom of each post), but I ultimately can only write from my perspective as a Christian. I try to write to a general audience (not exclusively to Christians), but I do at times make assumptions about the knowledge of my readers. However, I would like to assert that my views are not representative of UPCaM’s or Christianity’s – they are mine alone.