This month, on Monday, October 12, we again celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, a rapidly growing celebration around the United States to recognize a small but highly significant portion of our population, Native Americans. Several states and many large municipalities have recognized this day as an official holiday, and there is a growing movement to make this a Federal holiday as well.
I enjoy celebrating the different cultures that surround and encompass us. Each vibrant thread in the colorful tapestry of humanity contributes something unique and different, and the more that we learn about each of these threads, the more that we can appreciate their contributions. The mosaic of the tapestry, when seen from a distance, blends into a harmonious picture and truly represents the greatness that is humanity. We tend to celebrate our own heritage, and sometimes lack understanding of adjacent threads of cultures in our tapestry.
But at the end of the day, we are all one people. We all originated millions of years ago on the plains of the Serengeti, and through long migrations, we ended up in different parts of the world. Climate and other environmental conditions resulted in superficial physiological changes, and our cultures grew and evolved in unique ways.
Even with the unique evolution of each culture around the world, I have observed certain principles that seem to be consistent. We all want a happy and safe family environment, we all share a lot of traditions and histories regarding the origin of man, and we all seem to have instinctual fears of things that can harm us. Sadly, one of the things that gives us fear is the different cultures of others. People struggle to be heard, to be counted as significant and important, and to convince people not like them that they also matter. My belief is that people should be heard, they should be counted as significant and important, and that everyone matters. We are all one people.
As a child, I learned a lot of lessons from my parents, teachers, and others who shared their wisdom with me. Ten of these lessons come to mind today, as I reflect on this topic of the diversity and unity of humanity
Do the right thing, even when nobody is watching
Cultures are built on moral codes, which are ingrained deep in our behaviors. I was always taught to do the right thing. Maybe nobody knows if you say or do something not moral, but you will.
Be kind to everyone
Every person deserves respect and kindness. It doesn’t matter if they are rich or poor, or from a different culture than yours. It costs nothing to be kind, and that kindness is often paid forward to others.
Let your good actions speak of your good character
Sometimes, promises are made and not delivered. I believe that when a promise is made, it should be delivered. Actions speak much louder than words, so the actions you take are a clear reflection of the character of your heart.
Assist with a hand-up
When we see someone in need, our initial instinct is to help. Early in life, I learned that just giving something to someone in need solves the immediate problem, but systemic changes (as a teacher, I believe education is vital to that) help that person change their situation for the better.
Recognize that your words have power, sometimes uplifting and sometimes demeaning
The power of our words is frighteningly strong, and a kind word or expression of appreciation can lift the recipient’s spirits. A callous or meanspirited slight can have a strong impression in the wrong direction. Be careful with your words, as they have power.
Show others your heart
Your heart is the center of your spirit. It is where goodness and kindness reside. In a world increasingly dominated by socially distant technology, the connection of person to person is diminishing. We are social creatures. Reaching out with your heart helps build long term relationships.
Seek the good in others
We all come into this world naked and crying, without any preconceived cultural mores or knowledge of the world. We all have goodness in our hearts. Sometimes, that goodness gets covered over by years of accumulated pain and agony, trials and tribulations, or just struggling to live life. But beneath that accumulation, there is still the goodness with which we were born. Find that good in others, and help them shine.
Act with fairness and courtesy, as you would wish to be treated
My dear parents used to call this the Golden Rule – do unto others as you wish them to do unto you – and I believe it still has great significance in this world. In a business setting, I try to be fair and equitable, as I would like the person on the other end of the transaction to be. In personal situations, I try to be nice to others, and I hope they are able to respond similarly to me.
Listen first, and speak second
An old Chinese (or Greek, or Peruvian, or something) proverb says that once a bell has been rung, it cannot be unrung. Once words come out of our mouths, they can’t be erased. Whether in person or on some social media site, our words create a lasting impression of who we are. We’ve heard about creating a first impression – what about all the other impressions that continue for decades after? I try to let others speak first, and save my words so that I can carefully listen to what they have to say.
Embrace differences, as we can learn so much from each other
We are all different. We all have different cultural backgrounds, different experiences growing up, and different views on life. We can learn so much from each other – ways of thinking, ways of looking at the world, even ways of growing as individuals. And the more we know about each other, the less likely we are to develop fears of these differences.
And the overarching lesson I have learned growing up is that we need to take care of our planet, Mother Earth – it is right now the only home we have. The Navajo have a lovely way of capturing this sentiment with “Walk in Beauty,” indicating the closeness the Navajo culture has with their surroundings. Our Mother Earth is our small sandbox on the playground, and we need to live together harmoniously in this sandbox, as there is no other. And candidly, even if there were unlimited other sandboxes available, all of these lessons about playing nicely with each other, and respecting our sandbox, are all still valid.
Take the first step. Smile at a stranger. Say hello to your neighbor. Thank the mail carrier for taking care of your mail. Shine beams of sunshine wherever you can. Brighten up the world. It starts with one person, and with one action. These are things that most of us already do automatically, but maybe we can each step up our game. After all, we are all one people.