Gary had this thing about “Mexicans”; or rather, against them! “Just look at that!” he’d rant as we drove past a group of Hispanics waiting on the street to get picked up for field work. With a straight face he’d say “They’re taking jobs away from us!,” as if this justified his dislike. “But Gary,” I countered, “Do you really want to do back-breaking field work?” “No,” he replied, “But that’s not the point.” I was left wondering what was the point?! You have to realize that for Gary “Mexicans” can be Hispanics, Puerto Ricans, even Hawaiians! One day at Walmart he fumed as we stood in the checkout line because the woman in front of us was speaking Portuguese on her cellphone. “Damned Mexicans!” I heard him mutter, hoping that the woman didn’t hear him; she didn’t, but that wasn’t the end of it since our cashier turned out to be Hispanic! When she asked, “Did you find everything?” I braced myself for what might come next, but Gary went one better: he refused to speak to her at all! And then there was the evening we went out to eat; you guessed it, our waiter was Hispanic, which was simply not acceptable to Gary who called the manager over and demanded that we have a different server. I said to Gary, “You know, you’re like someone who keeps banging his head against the wall, trying to get rid of a headache… a headache that you create by insisting on viewing certain people as incapable of goodness!” Gary threw his napkin down on the table, pushed his chair out, snapped himself erect, glared at me, and left me sitting there. And that was the exact point at which, from Gary’s point of view, our friendship ended!
Thich Nhat Hanh has written: “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.” In other words, if we view others as incapable of goodness then we blind ourselves to the goodness that they might manifest. In the way that we view obstacles or difficulties in our life (not to mention people!) we can sometimes be like Gary, viewing them as an interference, as something disrupting the peaceful flow of our days. But there is another way to view those things and people who disturb us, a way that we can learn about from knowing how oysters deal with irritation. Pearls… are the tears of their oysters. A bit of grit… an annoyance… gets in there and the way that the oyster deals with it is by slowly weeping nacre over and around the irritation, enabling its tears to slowly encase an unwanted intrusion and transform it into a valuable pearl!
Our ignorance of “otherness”… of gender, or religion, or political or sexual persuasion… can be one of the greatest irritants in life! In order to find peace for ourselves we need to, first of all, realize that other people are not going to stop being themselves simply because we either find them irritating or do not approve of them! That being so, we are left with finding a way towards inner peacefulness for ourselves, finding a way to transform how we look at others… and one of the best and fastest ways to accomplish this is by forcing ourselves to reach out and help those with whom we would rather not have anything to do! When the face of “the enemy” gazes back with gratitude for something that we have just done for them, a crack in our heart’s armor also opens, even if just a bit. And the more we bathe others with acts of goodness, the more our own wizened heart is slowly transformed into a peaceful pearl.
Quite often what is wounded about ourselves can be mended by reaching out to mend that part of the world that is within our reach… if we but stop rejecting what irritates us!