I rarely comment on political happenings/current events in public, perhaps because I gave my roommate a fright on the first day of university when I covered my closet in posters signed by a certain political figure from Texas. But, I’m deeply troubled by the case of Anders Breivik, the man responsible for massacring 77 people in Norway last summer. During his trial, Brevik claimed to be “defending Norway from multiculturalism.” Defending from multiculturalism? At first, this does not compute. What’s so bad about multiculturalism? So it’s easy for me to write Breivik off as an outlier, thinking that his hatred is unattainable, nothing a “normal person” like me would ever experience. But when I think about it, don’t I have a propensity toward dislike and distrust? Couldn’t I hate?
Breivik is an exceptional case: he is incredibly disturbed and misled. I know that the majority of people who speak out against multiculturalism are not mass murderers, nor am I. But it got me thinking, how do people become so hateful? How does hatred begin?
Yesterday, Varun and I were walking through the Home Depot parking lot. A middle-aged man was walking alongside and remarked angrily to us, “Crazy sign, eh?”
Unwillingly to pleasantly go along, I looked at him and said, “Um, what’s crazy about it?”. He looked a bit surprised, and said, “Nothing. I just don’t know what this world is coming to. There’s a spot for hybrid vehicles and now this. Next we’ll have one for different races”.
I’ve been thinking about this exchange all day. I know that that man is probably confused and threatened by the changes he sees around him: immigration, environmentalism and feminism…* The land where he grew up is changing rapidly, with high-rise apartments replacing corn fields. Faces and names which were once familiar are suddenly lost in crowds of foreign skin-tones and accents. And hybrid vehicles? Well, that’s got to be some left-wing hippie conspiracy…**
I think this guy was just scared and annoyed. But I also realized that this fear and confusion can easily turn into dislike, and dislike can fester and become a rotting core of hatred. This is the crux of it: hatred begins quietly, and slowly; with a distrustful thought, a rude word or a judgmental generalization. I won’t pretend that I haven’t thought unkind thoughts about people I suspect are “immigrants” who don’t have “nice Canadian manners.” (Not like I have nice Canadian manners).
I admit: there are moments in which I have to check my heart, admit my selfishness and remember that multiculturalism is an incredible blessing.
And it is a giant blessing. In my life, mingling with people from different cultures is a constant source of joy and enrichment. Growing up in a home with Irish and Italian influences gave me an open heart and a curious mind. Marrying Varun has opened my world to the best tea ever, amazing music and movies, a new language and a family bursting with stories, customs and colours which fascinate me. Traveling has given me the opportunity to be the minority, stand on distant shorelines and become friends with strangers, enjoying a brief evening of laughter. Life in Canada has made me aware of many different cultures and experiences, from the taste of bubble tea to the difficult, and often lonely, life of a refugee. If I have grown at all kinder, more interested, more interesting, more curious, less judgmental, more loving or less intolerant, it is largely because I’ve been exposed to people who are not like me.
I recognize that it is difficult to create a society that is multicultural. Heck, it can be challenging to live in a neighborhood or even a family with mixed cultures. Smells, manners, language, family life…when you look at these differences through the lenses of fear and suspicion they are barbed intrusions. But when you look at these differences with love and trust, they are brightly coloured tiles in a glittering mosaic. Breathtaking.
I’m not sure why Breivik became so derailed, angry and hateful. Maybe we’ll never know. But I do know that in my own heart, I have a choice every day: love or hate. As I look around my neighborhood and see a collage of languages and ethnicity, I also see people just like me. People created in love by God, people who desire honest labour, healthy families and joyful celebrations. I look in the dark brown eyes of Varun and see someone funny, strong, loving and intelligent. And so I choose to explore the differences and embrace the jewels I find in other cultures.
I (try to) choose love.
*I’m not sure if feminism is the right word to describe parking spots for preggo moms. But I needed an -ism…so…
**(I jest. I actually want a hybrid)