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June 15, 2016

Continuing Conversation Regarding Refugees and Immigrants

"How is this a global crisis and how can we respond?"

[Editor's Note: A few days after this dialogue, the UN refugee agency reported that 65 million refugees were displaced worldwide at the end of last year, easily setting a new postwar record. In a recent report, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said another 225 million are immigrants.]

We opened the meeting with a moment of silence to remember the 49 young people shot in a club in Orlando, Florida.

Some observations in the initial go-round about the displacement and migration of people:

  • children are growing up in camps in conditions of war and hardship that will have lifelong effects
  • climate change with droughts, floods and rising seas are pushing people out of their homelands
  • there is a disorienting effect on people who are forced to accept migrants into their neighborhoods when they are culturally different
  • in Europe, countries of the EU have closed formerly open borders because of the numbers of people from impoverished countries of the economic South who are looking for a better life in Europe
  • because of cultural differences, both people migrating and people in countries receiving migrants are having an identity crisis who are we?
  • the hurt of migrants is also our hurt
  • the migrations are part of a larger picture: humanity is in a time of transition. When it's over we will be in a different and hopefully more harmonious place.
  • instead of fear-based attitudes, we can have trust that the Spirit will not allow us to fall into the abyss
  • there is an attitude "I don't want to share" but people will do it if it's inevitable
  • from our discussions of climate change in recent months we know that we have to change. The way we are living is not sustainable.
  • middle class people in the U.S. are not likely to be willing to give up their "standard of living" -- big houses, cars, sending kids to college or to pay taxes to support newcomers

Next round: What was similar and what was different among the initial reactions to the question?

Similar: We think we are supposed to help everybody. Actually in the parable of the Good Samaritan, we are not asked to help but to love.

Different: Europe is exploding because of an economic crisis austerity cutbacks vs continuation of social services. The power system is changing.

Similar: We are going to be taking in others. How can we see them as people needing help and not people with bad intentions?

Similar: There is a threat in a lot of different places. Fear is a strong motivator. An undercurrent in all the comments.

Similar: Regarding the question inclusion and exclusion: We want to believe that basically we all want to be connected. But do we really want to love?

Different: The majority of people do not have loving hearts. They are distracted by the circumstances and struggles of everyday living. We need strong spiritual leaders.

Different: Diversity can be a source of stress but it also is how we get strong. In the Western world we don't know how to receive. If we really love, we can accept what others have to give to us. They will teach us new ways to be human. We don't talk, connect. We are the ones needing help.

Different: There was a group of recent immigrants brought together with another group of long-term immigrants from the same country. The recent immigrants talked about their customs and the long-term ones were grateful to be reminded of them. We can say to people coming in, "We are happy to receive your gifts in exchange.

Comments from the Third Round: What can we do?

  • It's all about developing relationships. This equalizes the way; it's not helping someone out.
  • God or spirit guide, however you think of this, answers prayers. Sometimes takes us in different directions. Keep focused on what will make us a more connected planet, focus on intentions and don't watch the TV news.
  • It's contagious if you have an optimistic spirit.
  • A place to start is to interact with the people around us more frequently and wear a pleasant expression on our faces when we do it.
  • At a mass in the morning, the priest made a point that the shooter in the Orlando tragedy is as human as the victims and should also be remembered.
  • We don't know what might have happened to that young man to make him do what he did.

A gay man in the group said he was so furious he was not ready to acknowledge the humanity of the perpetrator of the shootings.

  • One person said she has been learning about Ramadan (currently happening) and fasting one meal a day to share in a small way with the experience of the Muslims observing it with prayer and fasting.
  • We need to start now, taking small but be humble and recognize that it will take several generations to resolve the tensions.
  • We need to get informed. There are major differences between the needs of refugees, immigrants and expatriates.
  • UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for nations to accept more refugees. The governor of my state, Washington, has said he will welcome Syrian refugees in his state. I plan to write him a letter to thank him for his position.
  • It's a spiritual question. Love is the answer. Daily we should ask: How did I love and forgive today.
  • Give more value to first-hand experience than to what we learn from the media.
  • As a French person, I have to ask forgiveness for the colonial crimes of my ancestors. We humiliated a lot of people. It's important to ask forgiveness because otherwise the memory is in a culture which is stuck.
  • It's wrong to demonize a whole culture. In my pharmacy a Muslim has set out Korans that people can take. I learned that it is similar to our scripture, that there is a great devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Reading it has changed my perspective. Jihad is not what I thought it refers to getting a detrimental influence out of your life and putting yourself in a different mindset.
  • Go back to the basics Love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Choose to be the best of who we are.

Final Round: What thoughts will we take home?

  • If you have a heavy heart, be hopeful as a person. Be that shining light.
  • Keep the ability to laugh at ourselves.

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