Understanding (#2)

25 Days of Peace is back for another year of compelling posts from nearly 10 contributors.  This year you can check out the action on Facebook, or at 254peace.org!  I can’t wait to hear from some of my favorite voices as they wrestle with peace, and what it means in their life during this Christmas season.  

I’ve (very) recently started trying to learn Spanish.  I’ve been to a Spanish speaking country several times in my life, and I currently live in an area with a reasonable number of Spanish speakers, a coworker who can speak Spanish, and I’ve recently met someone who has inspired me to finally make an effort to learn.  I’ve learned just a few words over the past few years, mostly just enough to apologize, or ask to be excused.  I might be able to ask how old you are, and if you are less than 10 years old, I might even understand your answer!  (Thanks to Seasame Street!)

I’ve often marveled at the ability of others to speak another language.  As someone who struggles to communicate in English, to me it is a miracle to be able to communicate with people from another culture.  Even though I can’t speak Spanish, when a situation would arise requiring me to communicate with a Spanish speaker, I would just make gestures and repeat the English words until I made myself understood.  It is a crude method, fraught with frustration, but it is usually worth the effort in the end.

When I have to gesture and point my way to communication, it reminds me that we as people often don’t put in enough effort to really understand the people around us.  When you speak my language, I automatically assume that you use words in the same way that I do, that my thoughts must be your thoughts as well.  Obviously, this is not true, and misunderstandings happen regularly in my life from a lack of effort on the part of both parties to really communicate.

When I take the time and effort to try to communicate outside of my own language, I find there is a connection that happens when meaning is finally communicated from one person to another.  The struggle and confusion can absolutely be worth it.

So why do I want to learn to speak Spanish if I can usually make myself understood when necessary?

I want to fully understand.

As our nation becomes increasingly polarized along nationalistic lines, l want to be available to be a bridge between two cultures that are not at peace.  I want to use my ability to communicate in English to tell the stories of those around me who can’t make themselves understood by those who won’t put in the effort to listen.  When a whole people group is maligned, made out to be the enemy of our success as a nation, I know that unless people are willing to stand up on their behalf, there is a genocide of sorts, lurking around the corner.

In every culture here in the United States, you can find good and bad.  In the same way that not every immigrant comes here illegally, I understand that not every immigrant obeys the laws.  I hope to celebrate the good, and expose the bad.  Dividing rightly the truth of the matters at hand from the false and terrible rhetoric.

In the pursuit of peace, sometimes we all need a little help understanding.  I hope to one day learn enough to be the beginnings of that bridge of understanding.  No lasting peace has been found without dialogue between the parties at war.
No lasting peace has been found without reaching understanding.

Feliz Navidad!

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