Most people have heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”. It’s such a true statement both literally and figuratively. Most of the time it’s easy to pick up a book and dismiss anything that’s off-putting and continue to read the jacket descriptions, praises, and book summary. Even if those are questionable, we might still flip to the first chapter to begin reading and judging the content for ourselves. I would contend, even strongly urge that we, as human beings, try to do the same with people.
When I say “people”, I’m referring to both the individual and any collective group. Let us not judge the Saudi “people” for the actions of their history or society or ruling class. Let us also not hold our ill will against any one person we might cross paths with for the sins of their fathers. That sounds very preachy, but it’s coming from a genuine place that believes that all humans are equal in their right to live with certain rights and to be treated fairly.
It’s obvious that human beings have a long and shameful past of violating each other in quite despicable ways. It’s overwhelming to think about and, while not acceptable, it is a fact we all have to come to terms with in our own way in our daily lives because it’s not going to subside magically one day. There’s no crop dust we can circle the globe with that will make people wake up and just want peace and love for their fellow Earth dwellers. No, the acts of injustice will continue. As we learn how to cope with this personally, we should not just think about it and speak about it, but also act about it.
A journalist went missing. There’s foul play involved which was possibly perpetrated on orders from people at a very high level. Yesterday, the final words from that journalist were published, unedited as it is being accepted that this person is dead. Probably murdered. Investigations are ongoing. That’s all I know from looking at this situation very peripherally. My distaste and mistrust of the media in general keeps me from digging too deep. I’m trying to employ my own ideals about how we should not judge a group (in my case the media) by the actions of a few people. It’s certainly challenging but my mind remains open and accepting and I want to learn more of this story.
The message of this journalist is a powerful one and he’s calling for change. He’s suggesting allowing a freedom of speech among people who historically have not had that. In doing so he’s making a statement about that history and about the injustice of it and also how that continues in the present tense. That’s quite a brave position to take and he might have paid the ultimate price for his words.
Thinking about how this person may have been murdered for actively participating in, and advocating the very thing that he was trying to change is quite a loaded gun. I could lament more about how this makes me feel, but that is not the point. My point is that this is just the cover of the book and judging the Saudi people by what is happening right now, or by the actions of a few people, or what the history of their people is, is not the right thing to do. Instead, we should have an open mind and be driven by logic and reason and not by emotional reactions.
I have a friend who is from Saudi Arabia and he is one of the kindest, most gentle souls I have ever met. I would never in a million years judge him or think any less of him because of things that transpire continents away. I knew him before 911, he was a student here in the US and close friends with friends of mine. For me, he was just another person we would hang out with from time to time. He welcomed me into his home, cooked for me, and treated me as an equal. There was a time after 911 that he could not get a visa to visit the United States and we had very little contact. He is now able to visit again and though I do not see him very often, I still call him friend and he is the same as ever – thoughtful, positive, and welcoming. It’s easy to NOT judge a person who you have known for so many years. It is not as easy with strangers or people whom you are meeting for the first time or people who are on the other side of the globe.
When I am in public places and passing by people with different backgrounds and cultural origins, I think of my friend, and try to give everyone the same courtesy. Many of us don’t know what it must be like to be a foreigner in another country where the people judge you and dismiss you as if they know what is in your heart. Most Americans are actually pretty ignorant about what it is like being raised in a society which has a culture and history that is so different than our own. Applying logic and reason, we should not look negatively at or act upon any one person from Saudi Arabia or anywhere else, frankly, based on the book cover of their life. We should also not be so assuming about the group of people you would call the Saudi people. Making a leap of faith, this thought process and approach can be translated to any group – people categorized or collectively identifying as a certain race, religion, culture, gender, age, or sexual orientation.
Today it would be easy for individuals/Americans to use this latest tragedy to fuel fires of anger and hatred against another group of people. It would be shameful if the death of this journalist was reduced into a reason for putting up more walls and closing off doors or harboring ill feelings. It would not be productive if there was “group” reaction or retaliation. I’m not advocating that we sweep this under a rug and forget about it, as what he lived for and what he died for is near and dear to my heart. I am emotionally moved by his message and believe in his words, that people (even if it is the media) should have the right to free speech. I’m not suggesting that we turn a blind eye to that, I’m simply making a point that we should not pull our fire sticks and pitchforks out and declare it a witch-hunt. I’m proposing that we not judge “people” by the circumstances they were born into.
I do hope that the truth about what has happened to this man can be uncovered. If it can be, then the individual persons responsible should be judged and treated appropriately. The full truth, however, may be elusive, as it often is, and we can’t simply jump to conclusions based on the picture on the front of the book. Instead, let us open it and take in a chapter or two. Let us continue to read and be open to positive change and inch toward being a more compassionate and empathetic people. After all, we are collectively all belonging to the biggest group of people on Earth, and that is the human race, attempting to co-exist for a very short period of time together in this life.