By Justin Robbins
Robbins is a frequent contributor to the Cowgirl Blog. You can follow him on Twitter at @JustinRobbins15
This question is typically posed as more of a rhetorical declaration by someone who already has a pretty firm idea of who they think we are. It carries, at least in my humble experience, an implication that I, in fact, may not be that humble after all. That, in some way, I have made an assumption or taken a liberty that is outside the scope of the whatever standing I may hold in the relationship in question.
This particular collection of words, however, might also cause us to examine more complicated issues in less common areas of debate. The dilemma of our ethical and moral obligations as members of the human race as they apply, for example, to the Syrian refugee crisis.
A quick perusal of your social media hangouts will likely show that opinions vary greatly…both of them. Like so much of our national discourse, this issue has been politicized and polarized; with very little attention paid to the many nuances and intricacies inherent in such a question. You are either ushering terrorists into our homes, or a heartless xenophobe, handing a victory to the terrorists by virtue of your own personal terror. For more colorful descriptions of these perspectives, take a scroll through the comments on Governor Bullock’s Facebook post for the upcoming Cat/Griz game.
So, in an effort to see the issue more clearly, I propose a thought experiment. Let us strip away all our biases, be they based in political leanings, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual preferences or what have you. For this exercise, shake loose of it all. There is room only for a single disparity; you may keep the bias of your origin. Whether you believe our universal common ancestor to be a 3.8 billion year old string of amino acids, or a 6,000 year old guy named Adam, we are all, in the final analysis, human.
As such, it has been argued we possess certain, self-evident, unalienable rights. These have been articulated a number of times throughout history, but perhaps never better stated nor more forcefully claimed than in the founding documents of this country. Strong arguments can yet be fielded that these documents were not perfect; they certainly did not contemplate the equality of women, Native Americans, nor African Americans. However, I would argue they remain unmatched in principle and fundamental moral intent. We human beings are all born free and equal in dignity and rights.
It would be nice if that fact alone were enough.
Instead, despite our undeniable niche at the top of the food chain, or perhaps because of it, we struggle mightily. We divide ourselves tribally using the biases which I trust you, the reader, still continue to resist. We strive for wealth and power regardless of, or perhaps again because of our unique and terrible understanding of our own mortality. Finally, our innate yet contradictory needs for both independence and community seem locked in perpetual battle for control of our nature; or the better angels thereof.
Then we see a 3 year old boy washed up dead on the shore of the sea to which his family fled, betting likely death against its certainty. Anyone who’s ever had a child, or been one, can’t help but have a visceral reaction to such a scene. This boy was not a threat. He was not a jihadi, not a terrorist of any stripe; not even a Christie orphan sleeper cell. He was a refugee; “a person who flees for safety, as in a time of war.” He was a human being.
That’s it. Experiment complete. You may embrace again your biases. Embrace again the pure chance of the place and time and ethnicity of your birth, and embrace again whatever ideas you have about how and why your creator may decide to circumvent the inevitable finality of your death. Cling tightly to whatever ledgers, or trinkets or stories you feel entitle you to a better circumstance. Embrace again the terror you think will keep you safe. Get your family in the bunker and seal it with your flag.
If you need me, I’ll be standing out in the open next to the people with the courage, conscience, compassion and character to offer shelter and safety to those less fortunate than are we. I know I will be in good company because whoever stands up to the bullies, whatever the cost, has already won. You may disagree. It’s a free country. But, that’s who I think we are.