Monday, May 26, 2014

Never underestimate the openness of the human heart

In my career as a researcher of immigrant communities, I have too many occasions to observe the ways that discrimination, hatred, and fear transcend national borders, marking the lives of those seen as different, policing the boundaries between insiders and outsiders. But I don’t often enough get to write about a different, revolutionary truth that is also glimpsed by moving abroad: that human goodness also knows no borders. I am leaving Denmark in a few days, and last night my family and I had dinner in the home of a Danish family that we did not even know. That is, my husband met the mother on the street one afternoon when he was asking for information about bikes on the Metro. She asked where he was from and what he was doing here, and before you know it, they invited us over for dinner. “We really want to get to know you,” she said. When we arrived in their beautiful sun-drenched apartment just across the canal from our own, they greeted us like old friends, genuinely happy to see us. “You must think it’s strange that these people you don’t even know invited you over,” she said to me. “But I have learned that the only regrets we have in life are of opportunities not taken.” It was the first of many profound truths shared over the next four hours of lively conversation over food and wine. We learned that they have traveled and lived in many different countries, and have an insatiable hunger for knowledge and new experiences. They were critical of what they saw as arrogant Danish closed-mindedness and conformity, just as we are critical of American hypocrisy and well, many things. But it was not their critique that most inspired me, but their genuine enthusiasm for the goodness of others. By the end of the evening, we had new friends. As we were saying good-bye, she shared another reason why traveling and getting to know other people is so important: “The more you learn about people, the more you love, and forgive.” Isn’t that the truth? In every country and corner of the globe I have lived in—Africa, Asia, Central America, Europe—I have found people who embraced me and others against all logic. These people have taught me to never underestimate the miraculous potential of the human heart. 

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