By Denise Tarud
November 18, 2014
One of my favourite things when I was a little kid, somewhere in South America, was to go have tea with my grandfather at the Senate. Pastries of all kinds, hot chocolate, and the yummiest sandwiches were the main attraction, of course, but so was being the center of attention of all those very elegant men like grandpa, who asked all sorts of questions that made me feel smart.
I was too young to know that, a couple of hours before, those same friendly gentlemen were having the most heated debates, in manners that outsiders would believe they were sworn enemies. However, that was only when they were discussing draft laws and political projects –at tea time, they were all kind and friendly. But then again, they did not have Facebook.
With the series of elections that have been taking place all over North and South America, as well as tough political conflicts in other places like Syria, Palestine, and Nigeria, among others, I have seen many of my friends –or those I thought were my friends— re-posting the most radical statements and opinions. Mind you, I have to say I do believe many of them did not fully endorse what they were re-posting. Perhaps some of them just liked the picture, or could relate to some of the sentences. Others, most likely, did not even understand them.
On the other hand, alas, some of them did mean what they were re-posting. Wanting to believe they were among those who did not fully share what they were re-posting, I did engage in a Facebook discussion (or some of my other friends did), trying to clarify the situation. In many cases, I was glad to see that, although we did not share the same position on the bombing of Gaza, for instance, we did share a common desire to solve the issue and protect the human rights of all involved.
Unfortunately, in a few cases, I was horribly surprised to find out that people I had known for over a decade, with whom I had shared key moments of my life, had kept to themselves such supremacist beliefs or phobic positions until they felt protected hiding behind a screen. Or until they found someone more eloquently expressing such beliefs for them to re-post them.
I then realized how naïve I had been so far, wanting to believe that, in this day and age, living in a Western civilization, we all know the ground rules of political debate and political beliefs. Wanting to believe that nobody would even question the International Declaration of Human Rights… I came to see that, alas, others choose to follow Animal Farm instead. “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” Clearly, those few “friends” were quick to unfriend me, or left it up to me to unfriend them.
Ten years ago I moved to Toronto, a city with immigrants from all over the world, in which everyone can share and thrive in its diversity. Since then, I can say that my life has only become richer, with friends from all backgrounds, with all sorts of different political and religious beliefs, with a myriad of different ideas and approaches to life. No matter where I go or what I do, there’s always something new to learn every day, a new element to add to my own life and to the lives of others.
I can clearly see how we, as humans, need such diversity to survive as a species. Even when there’s conflict because of such differences, we can enrich our lives by challenging our own beliefs. Are we really considering all factors involved or are we missing something? Are we holding such position because of our own ego, or even our childhood conditioning?
Debate is good. Different points of view are enriching. But such different points of view must have a common ground floor on which we can start building. As far as I see it, full respect for human rights is such ground floor. If we don’t value each other as human beings, if we don’t believe in each other’s potential, how can we be open to what we can bring into each other’s lives?
If somebody thinks they’re superior –whether because of their ethnic origin, religion, political views, or beliefs—no matter what the parties say, there is no dialogue, just a ranting of slogans to support such “superiority,” sometimes subtly, other times quite rudely. If we want to build something –whether a friendship, a society, a country or a peace agreement—we need different points of view, we need debate, we need each other. But we first need to know that we actually are looking towards the same goal.
In Brazil, there’s an expression they say was coined by Milton Peruzzi, a sports radio presenter of the ‘50s and ‘60s, to make reference to how, after a conflict in the field, everything will be ok in the change room: “it’ll end up in pizza”. No matter how big the fight, they’ll just go out to share some pizza after the game. Nowadays, this term is commonly used in politics too.
So next time you have a Facebook discussion with a friend over politics, once you first make sure you share at least some basic values, just enjoy the different views... or better yet, share your ideas over some tea, or pizza.
Denise Tarud is a writer and translator who deeply enjoys globalization. She is currently based in Toronto, where she also teaches translation at the University of Toronto, and goes scootering around the different neighbourhoods with her daughters when the weather allows it. She can be reached at www.denisetarud.com