When I think what it means to be American, I think of many things: strong spirit, optimism, expansive thinking, fierceness and unmitigated commitment to new things. What I don't think of: fear. But somehow, fear is the new status quo. It's led us down this path of attacking, bombing, shooting. Desecrating things and people who are different.
This fear apparently led a man to vandalize the Sikh Temple in Spokane Valley last week. Of course, the man who did this is responsible directly, but as a society we are responsible as well.
Fear is not by itself a bad emotion, as it helps us to survive, but if given free rein over our logical side, it leads to our destruction. At the moment, fear is the heart of much of our social and racial discord. Fear frees us from responsibility. It frees us from our need to connect with others, except "our own." But while we think it is protecting us from harm, the reality is that fear sends our best selves to an emotional penitentiary.
When fear is the lens through which we see different religions, cultures and races, we believe the worst about each of those groups. And that's when we get into trouble and we do things that we might not normally do.
To harm any religion's sacred space is to harm every religion's sacred space. And I assure you that the fear that has led to this act will eventually come around to negatively impact other religious spaces. So it behooves us to educate ourselves about other religions.
I have taken my daughter to the temple, during the Diwali celebration. As outsiders, it was scary to walk into a new place of worship for the first time. We were afraid of what to do, and what not to do. But there was not an unfriendly face to be found. We were welcomed warmly, with a kind of hospitality that made you feel like you were home. We enjoyed food and conversation, and we learned about the Sikh holy book and the beauty that can be found in that religion.
When I heard about the vandalism of their holy place and the destruction of their centuries-old holy book, my heart broke for them.
I also learned that members of the temple were able to perform a citizen's arrest on the perpetrator, and while they waited for the police to arrive, they offered him tea. Can you imagine the kind of dignity it took to treat their abuser like that? I wonder what other people would do in the same circumstance. Would you offer him tea after he destroyed a statue of Mother Mary or Jesus Christ? The grace, honor, and forgiveness that the Sikh members showed this man is the ultimate form of American strength and optimism.
I hope the good that comes out of this is that more people learn about other religions and other cultures in a more intentional way. Knowledge is the key to getting out of the emotional cage in which fear confines us. Plus, you might get to enjoy some tea. ♦
Tara Dowd, an enrolled Inupiaq Eskimo, was born into poverty and now owns a diversity consulting business. She is an advocate for systemic equity and sees justice as a force that makes communities better.