Why are some people so opposed to refugees coming into our country? Why do some see them as a threat and believe that it is acceptable to treat them as somehow less than fully human?
These questions point to a source of major suffering in our world now.
There is something of a mythology associated with the perceived threat posed by frightened, desperate people entering our country.
The deeper problem, though, is that we are clinging to a far too limited and frankly obsolete understanding of what a family is. It is this narrow vision of what makes a family that is keeping us stuck in fear of whoever we perceive as “different” and conflating “different” with dangerous.
We need to radically expand what we mean by the word “family.” Our definition of what makes a family has been far too narrow for far too long. There has been a strong tendency to think of family in terms of those who are our blood relatives as well as those who we are related to through marriages. This has been our means of determining who “we” are and who “they” are.
Although a traditional extended family is more expansive and inclusive than the traditional nuclear family of biological parents and their children, it still leaves us with a perspective that invites us to see everyone else as non-family. In others words: not one of us. As soon as we recognize someone as “one of us” or “not one of us” we quickly decide how we will treat that person based on which category we place them in. We human beings have a long history of social programming that predisposes us to give preferential treatment to those we see as “one of us” and a heightened sense of suspicion toward everyone else.
There are, of course, additional dimensions of the “one of us” family paradigm. We may identify with our professional colleagues as our “work family.” We can also attribute a family-like affiliation to various other kinds of groups that we have at some time been a part of: schools, sports teams, the military, political parties, clubs, fraternities, sororities, etc.
So there are some added circles of inclusion with respect to who we regard as family but even so, there are always those “others” who are outside those circles who do not get included in any way as part of “us.”
Have we reached the limit of expanding our definition of family or is there still somewhere else to go with it?
Although it may seem that we have reached a dead end with respect to how we understand the meaning of family, we have actually come to a closed door rather than a solid wall. This door can be opened and we can step through it and enter what lies beyond it.
Stepping through this door requires the proverbial leap of faith. This step is the acceptance of the idea that everyone and everything is our family. There is no one and nothing that isn’t a family member. There is no human being anywhere on this planet that isn’t your brother or sister. There is no animal or plant that isn’t a relative. The land, the water, and the air are members of the same family to which we all belong.
This is actually quite realistic and practical when we remember that a central truth common to all families is that every family shares a common point of origin. They all start somewhere at a particular time. Maybe this is why lovers reminisce about where and when they first met. It matters.
Human beings all share a common point of origin on our little blue planet. We have been referring to her as Mother Earth for a very long time. This is where we all started. We human beings all share 99.9% of the same DNA. That’s how much we are all more alike than different from each other. If we allow our vision to be a bit more expansive, our home planet and our home solar system all originated from the same recycled stardust. On a cosmic level we all come from the same raw material.
So much changes when we realize that we are all part of the same family.
We realize that “othering” a family member just doesn’t work. We cannot escape our relatedness. Competing with and defeating a family member just doesn’t feel right. Competition somehow becomes less interesting while cooperation becomes very interesting.
We realize that generosity and compassion are sensible and natural. Giving something good to a family member becomes an act of giving to oneself. Receiving from a family member is a gift back to the giver.
We have no need to be afraid of refugees. It is they who come to us afraid and needing our help. They are our brothers and sisters.
We are all children of the Ultimate Mystery. We are all members of the same family.