I understand that it is human nature to fear the unknown, to distrust the different, and to want to protect the known. This is the root of the prejudice, hate, and bigotry. It’s hardwired into us for survival. Early man needed to be on high alert most of the time from dangers in nature whether fauna or flora – eating the wrong plant could kill you just as quick as a snake bite.
Even today we have to be on alert in our surroundings. Just walk down Ocean Avenue and if you can avoid being hit in a crosswalk, or scared half to death by a bike rider who’s not paying attention, you’re doing well. If you’re putting yourself in a sketchy spot at night, your adrenaline will flow as you listen for an approaching mugger. But these are situational in nature, they are appropriate and valid concerns. If you wish to avoid them you can for the most part.
But like all good things, a healthy fear can be exploited, it can grow out of proportion to the reality of the purpose it serves. This is where I wish I could show America what is possible, and what to really fear.
I would show America what is possible by bringing them to the Westside Toastmasters club on Wednesday nights at the Ken Edwards center on 4th and Broadway. I was struck again this past week, in light of the President’s Executive Order on travel, at just how amazingly diverse this club is, and how well everyone gets along. Now it may be the unity of purpose – that of wanting to improve one’s public speaking, that smooths the waters. It may be that this group of people is more motivated than others to get along because they have a desire to move ahead professionally. Possibly this is a more intelligent group than an average group of humans, or simply more liberal and open minded because of where we live.
Of course there is also the possibility that any group of humans can actually get along if we choose to. In this rather standard community room of linoleum floors, hard plastic chairs and cold beige tables set against brightly painted walls 30-50 people gather to share stories of our lives and get to know each other, all in the common purpose of not making fools of ourselves when asked to speak.
This room of diverse characters has a selection of immigrants from every occupied continent, I think. We have Asians from China, Kenyans from Nairobi, a bodybuilder from Peru, people from the Middle East, Europeans from several different countries. Politically the make-up is all over the board, from hard right wing Republicans to the Loony Left Fringe. We have artists and musicians, therapists, bankers, personal trainers and some guy who thinks he’s a writer. Geographically this group has members from as far away as South Gate where our past President David Portillo comes from, to San Pedro where Chris Luera drives up every week to build his speaking chops.
I have learned in this group about diverse cultures, whether Afghani or vegan. We’ve had members who shared with us what it is like being autistic, surviving cancer, and what prison life is like.
The overarching lesson of all this is that humans, and humanity, are not that different. We come in different colors, sizes, speak different languages and some worship different versions of a godhead or no godhead at all, but in the end it’s all just decoration. Some of us are decorated in pale white skin with bright red hair, others have a coffee color tan. One person’s language is more nasal, another’s is more guttural.
How we communicate is as unique as a fingerprint – what we communicate is surprisingly common. Seems like everyone has the same wants and concerns: love, security, friendship, and family.
If I could teach America one thing – it would be that sense of unity. Because I’ve seen it happen here every Wednesday, 7 p.m. at the Ken Edwards Center.
David Pisarra is a Los Angeles Divorce and Child Custody Lawyer specializing in Father’s and Men’s Rights with the Santa Monica firm of Pisarra & Grist. He welcomes your questions and comments. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 310/664-9969.You can follow him on Twitter @davidpisarra