Tearing down the borders that divide people
COPENHAGEN, Denmark » A term many of us know is Doctors Without Borders, or Medicins sans Frontires. In Hawaii we are fortunate to have our own version of MSF, the Aloha Medical Mission.
At the moment I am on a three-month visit to Denmark, where I am functioning for my spiritual organization, Subud, as a "helper without borders." My job is to strengthen the practice of Subud in Denmark. Normally, Subud helpers, or elders, function only within their own local groups.
But this is not an article about medicine or spiritual practice. It is a pitch for what, to my mind, would be the most important version of the without-borders concept: People Without Borders.
Today our globalizing, flattening world (in author Thomas Friedman's term) is still divided in lots of ways. We have countries, ethnic groups, races, religions, genders, sexual orientations, etc. -- lots of identifications that include some people while excluding others. These identifications are often the cause for pride. In Hawaii and on the mainland, we see bumper stickers stating the driver's pride in being American or Hawaiian.
It occurs to me, however, that often such identifications are a matter of chance. I am an American because I happened to be born here. Had my parents been from Mali, the whole thing would have been different. Can we be proud of our luck? I wonder.
While being this or that might be cause for personal pride, even justifiably so -- as in proud to be a member of X High School's undefeated 2006-2007 team -- the downside is that these personal identifications sometimes form borders that exclude others.
As a Jew -- again a matter of chance -- I admit pride at belonging to a small but talented group of people, arguably the world's most successful minority. But I understand that the distinction we have traditionally made between ourselves and Gentiles, between us and them, has not always been pleasant for them.
Help comes from another Jew, a German one named Martin Buber. In his well-known concept of I and Thou, he talks about two kinds of human relationships. The ideal one is between two individuals who treat each other as they would like to be treated. The relationship is between one and another, an I and a Thou. Unfortunately, too many relationships are of the second kind, an I and an It. The first person treats the second like an object, a thing of low value that is easily abused, imprisoned, even killed.
People without borders are full-time practitioners of I-Thou. Just as all oceans despite different names really form one body of water, and all nations on a continent are part of a single, undivided piece of land, all of us, despite our differing identifications, belong to a single human race.
Fortunately in Hawaii, thanks to our unique mix of peoples and the aloha spirit, we tend to understand this principle and act accordingly. Wouldn't the world be a better place if all 6 billion of us learned to do likewise?
Reynold Feldman is executive director of Wisdom Factors International, a Honolulu-based nonprofit organization trying to help the world wise up.