A lot of the strife and trouble in the world seems to stem from our disturbing ability to forget that the people we are fighting against have all the same emotions and feelings that we do. This happens not just in major conflicts but in every day life. The taxi driver, the train conductor or the toll booth attendant who drew the short straw and is required to man the “Cash Only” lane. On a larger scale, our enemies are followers of a hated religion or school of political thought. We can dismiss them, ignore them, fight them or belittle them because we don’t really know them. We convince ourselves that they are ‘different’ or that they don’t expect us to recognize them. It’s a convenient ruse and allows us all manner of bad behavior.
Today, on a ride home in a gypsy cab with Joshua, Maya and Ben, upon entering the car I noticed that the last name of our driver was unusually long, and decided to ask him about it. Once we’d got in, said hello and stated our destination, the conversation went something like this:
Me: How do you pronounce your last name?
Salim: (whose last name is written Diarrassoula) Dee-arr-ah-soo-lah.
I repeated what he said and he nodded in approval.
Me: Where are you from?
Salim: Ivory Coast.
Joshua: Ohhh, Ivory Coast! Drogba!
Big smile from Salim, who laughs and says, “Yes, Yes. Drogba.”
(For those of you who do not follow soccer, Didier Drogba is one of the most feared strikers in the world, and currently plays for Chelsea in the English Premiere League.)
Joshua: You know, I’m from Israel and Ivory Coast just beat Israel in soccer a couple of days ago.
Salim: Really? I didn’t know. (Pause) Have you ever been?
Joshua: To Ivory Coast?
Joshua: No, I haven’t. I’d like too though.
Me: I’ve seen pictures and it looks beautiful.
Salim: Yes. Very beautiful.
We arrived at our destination, payed him and got out of the car. Just before I closed the door he turned to us with a big smile and said, “Good-bye! Have a lovely evening and thank you!” We waved and as we walked away, Ben said to me:
Ben: “He was a lot friendlier when we got out than when we got in.”
Me: Why do you think that was?
Ben: I don’t know.
Me: I think it was because we were interested in him and Abba knew of someone from his home country. People are happy when someone takes an interest in them.
Ben: That’s true. He found out we were friendly.
And I would add, we found out that he was friendly too. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn and remember this lesson? How much saner would the world be if we remembered that the person with whom we are annoyed or angry; or who we are ready to kill is in fact someone who might like the same sports we do and who thinks their country is a beautiful place, just the same as we do?
I’ve never really considered Ivory Coast much; it’s a faraway place on a map. But today it’s a little closer, a little less foreign, thanks to a 2 minute cab ride. 2 minutes. How many 2 minute conversations would it take to make us forget our differences?
Not as many as we think.